Blueprint for change shapes up

A MORPETH community could be heading for a major make-over as wide-ranging regeneration plans shape up.

Several funding bids are in the pipeline to transform Stobhill with improved gateways, landscaping, parking, road works and community facilities.

The Herald previously reported consultation events for residents to give their views on what they would like to see in the area.

Now community groups, councils, agencies and other partners, led by the Stobhill Community Forum, are pulling together to turn the wish lists into reality.

Action plans have been drawn up by MCSquared consultants, internationally renowned street design expert Ben Hamilton-Baillie is giving his help for free, and Groundwork North East is preparing funding applications.

Proposals range from relatively simple projects, such as tree planting or installing art work, to more ambitious initiatives like providing a multi-use games area or community centre.

There are plans to tidy gardens and communal areas, install seating, create parks and play areas and introduce landscaping to the street scene, as well as provide off-street parking bays, improve building facades, narrow parts of Shields Road, resurface footpaths and roads and set up a Stobhill in Bloom competition.

It is also proposed to carry out feasibility studies into building a community centre, children’s centre and residential care home, appoint youth workers, offer social events and outings and expand the work of the Castle Morpeth Disability Association’s Blue Shop.

Groundworks Community Project Officer Mandy Rackham said: “The main emphasis at the moment is on the land behind Stobhill Youth Centre.

“We are looking to put in funding bids for a natural play area, like mounds and boulders, a community seating area and some play equipment.

“There is a small play area at the moment, but we are looking to improve it because it is for very little children and we want to make something for a wider age range, that is what the community has asked us to do.

“Some of the plans we have, like bulb planting, can be done reasonably quickly, but some of the major road improvements will take a lot longer.

“I think it will be brilliant when everything is finished, but at the moment we are trying to manage expectations because it is not going to be done overnight. It is going to take a bit of time.”

County councillor for the area Ian Lindley has saved up £40,000 from his small schemes allowance to help fund the work.

He said: “The original document was made on the basis of public consultation. A lot of people turned up to give their views and the stakeholders, such as the schools, the associations and the churches were involved, so the plan is based on core community priorities.

“I have saved up £40,000 from my allowance to do what we can with that, but the challenge now is to bring additional money into the area. If we only have money from our own resources so be it, but that will still be quite a bit.

“It is a long-term plan to lift the area up bit by bit and we will keep going to achieve what we want. This is not a project that will be done in six months or a year, it is a continuous process, but people should know that we are committed to it.

“Northumberland County Council, Isos, Groundworks, the schools, the church, the Castle Morpeth Disability Association, in fact everybody in the area is committed to working with local people on a long-term basis. This is not just a one-off project.

“People are sick of initiatives that come and go and nothing really happens, but we have got all these people around the table and they are working on this together.”

Isos Executive Director of Customer Services Tina Drury said: “It’s great to see progress being made on regenerating Stobhill and we’re very supportive of the co-ordinated approach being taken to improve the look and feel of the area.

“Isos, under the £32million Major Improvement Programme carried out by Castle Morpeth Housing, has already invested substantially in upgrading our properties in the area and we have installed new fencing to improve the streetscape of The Avenues estate.

“Stobhill is already a community where people are proud to live and we look forward to seeing more improvements which can have a real impact on their quality of life.”

Castle Morpeth Disability Association is also keen to get on board.

Training Manager Christina Manners said: “CMDA is looking into expanding and improving our service within the Stobhill area.

“We are currently looking into funding to continue the handyman service, which is free to the elderly, disabled, lone parents and those with a need for small jobs around the home. We are looking to expand this to small gardening jobs in the local area initially.

“At CMDA we will continue to provide training and employment advice from our community shop and to help with CVs, job search, online applications and emailing.”

However, Stobhill Youth Club Chairman Peter Farrier says his organisation has been told little about the plans.

“What the plans are, nobody is really sure,” he said.

“The youth club is the major player in Stobhill and it seems highly unusual that the major player hasn’t got any information about it. It is a bit frustrating.”