CONSULTATION on plans for a new opencast site has been taken to a new audience thanks to a Northumberland youth group.
Banks Mining was eager to seek the views of young people about its proposal to extract around 750,000 tonnes of coal from land next to the Ferneybeds estate in Widdrington Station.
So it enlisted the help of 10 members of the Coquet Youth Group, aged 14 to 16, to gather the opinions of their peers.
Working with the Northumberland Youth Service, the team took part in weekly meetings held over four months, which included planning and developing a consultation strategy, practising presentation skills and learning about mining and Banks as a company.
The youngsters were also invited to visit the Shotton surface mine at Blagdon.
The group consulted 35 young people about the plans, collated the results and then presented them to an audience of 20 local people, as well as members of Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council and the Coastal Villages Community Forum.
The scheme has been such a success that Banks is now looking at replicating it for other projects around the country.
Banks Community Engagement Co-ordinator Emily Hunter said: “Gathering the views of young people is an unusual undertaking for any type of development proposal, even though their opinions and ideas are just as valid as anyone else.
“The youth group members approached this project with real dedication and commitment and really impressed everyone that heard them present back their ideas.”
Coquet Youth Team Leader Lisa Waugh added: “The youth group members took this work on with a lot of enthusiasm and interest and they’ve had a really positive response to their ideas from everyone that they’ve spoken to.
“On a personal level, they’ve not been involved in anything like this before and have all gained a lot of confidence as the project has progressed.
“The presentation, consultation and teamwork skills that they’ve developed will be really useful to them in the future and it’s great to see the group’s ideas being taken on as part of Banks’ planning process.”