A MORPETH community is all abuzz as four years of improvement planning starts to deliver.
The Stobhill Stakeholders Regeneration Group was set up in 2009 to draw up a vision for the area known as The Avenues.
The aim was to find out residents’ concerns and aspirations and develop a plan to put ideas into action.
First, the group needed a solid evidence base for its work and MCSquared Consulting was commissioned to draft an initial Stobhill Neighbourhood Regeneration Strategy after extensive consultation.
The Stobhill Community Forum (SCF) residents’ group took the lead in steering the project and as the action plan started to take shape, other partners came on board, including Isos Housing, Groundwork, Northumberland County Council, Community Link, Sure Start, Northumbria Healthcare and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
Local organisations also got involved, such as Castle Morpeth Disability Association, St Aidan’s Church and Stobhillgate and Collingwood schools.
Now all the discussion and research is beginning to see results, with various initiatives taking place across the estate.
Town and county councillor Ian Lindley, who set up the SCF, said: “The first stage was developing the plan and now we can get on and do things.
“We have moved on from the initial plan and are actually delivering some of the physical stuff, the social activities and all sorts of other things through various groups.
“The community forum last year had another look at the consultants’ plan and refreshed the priorities to make sure they are deliverable and a lot is being generated at the moment.
“We have a great partnership and are gradually developing it all the time. We have got some really big players involved now.
“Energy builds and the fact that we have got the forum means we can get grants to do things and everything else feeds off it. It is positive energy.
“People can definitely see things going on now.”
There are three main priorities of the plan: improving the environment; raising aspirations and realising ambitions; and developing community involvement.
Funding has been secured from various agencies and organisations to deliver results, while Coun Lindley has set aside £50,000 from his small schemes allowance for streetscape work.
Activities so far have included youth play schemes, trips out for elderly residents, litter-picks and bulb-planting, as well as the removal of rusty railings at the former Black Swan.
A community DVD project, The Voices, is up and running with Isos and Collingwood School, to capture a sense of the area’s past and present through residents’ experiences.
A group of older residents have formed an Ageing Well scheme, managed and funded by the county’s adult services team, to provide activities, events and outings for older people. It includes bulb planting, exercise classes and lunch clubs, and there will also be links to the younger generation through joint projects with local schools and the Sure Start centre.
Work is ongoing to improve the Shields Road and Coopies Lane junctions, which is being funded by the county council.
“The Shields Road junction is a gateway feature for the estate, but it is also an entrance to the town of Morpeth and to have it improved will feel better for the people living there,” said Coun Lindley.
“I am sure the Coopies Lane junction will be of special benefit to our residents in Kingswell, Stobhill Villas and the Lonnen area, but my aim has been that we should find it easier to cross and move about here as pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.
“Although I have ended up having to compromise on design aspects, at least I was able to convince highways to abandon the idea of traffic lights. We have also achieved some real improvements.
“These include wider pavements under the railway bridge, a pedestrian crossing refuge, dropped kerbs, clearer road markings and easier access and egress for vehicles to the main road.”
In response to complaints about dog fouling, the county’s animal welfare team is assessing signage about the issue and has increased its overt and covert patrols, as well as produced more leaflets and posters.
One of the main areas of concern for Stobhill is the high level of unemployment, which is among the worst 20 per cent of wards in the country at 29 per cent of working age residents.
The Community Link shop is there to help, providing assistance with CV writing and developing employment skills.
The forum promotes a Fired Up training scheme run by Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service.
Sainsbury’s has recruited staff from the area for its new store at the former Black Swan.
Talks are ongoing with other businesses to see what help they can provide.
Coun Lindley said: “We really want to develop employment skills.
“Sainsbury’s asked how it could link in with us to best benefit the locality, so we told them that and they have recruited from the area around the new store through the Community Link shop.
“It will be all local people working at the store.
“It is not a huge number of jobs, but it is 16 people who wouldn’t have had work and it will make a big difference to them.
“The Community Link shop works to get people into employment.
“We have managed to keep it going with relatively small amounts of money, but it is really taking off now and a few years ago it managed to get proper sustainable funding as part of the regeneration work.”
Coming up, there will be work to improve the shop fronts in Grange Road and First Avenue, along with streetscape work in Jobling Crescent, including a walled garden redesign, and the creation of a mini park at Eastgate.
Pupils performance will be tracked through the school system to identify where their learning progress may be threatened and Action for Children will work with Sure Start to seek parents’ views on service provision.
Coun Lindley said: “At the moment, we are focusing on the most important part of the plans and we are confident that we can deliver all of these things and get the money to do it, but it is something that takes a number of years.
“It took two years to get the plan done, but we needed that to show organisations that we are serious and know what we’re doing. Now we can really get going.
“It is still being led by the residents, but the partnership is essential.”
He added: “It takes long-term commitment from a host of organisations, all working together for the good of the people, to ensure that any area lives up to its potential.
“In Stobhill we are blessed to have this solid partnership and a great community to build on.
“I have been able to save up more than £50,000 from my small schemes money to kick-start streetscape work and this seed fund is drawing contributions in from more and more partners as they realise this is not just a pipe dream.
“I’m sure we’ll continue to go from strength to strength over the next few years.”
There are currently about 15 members of the community forum, including a committee, but more residents are welcome to join.
The forum meets bi-monthly, on the first Monday of the month, at Community Link, in Shields Road.
The next meeting is in April. For further information call into Community Link.