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Community Case Studies

Since the summer of 2011 the Community Action Group (CAG) has been visiting various parts of Essex in order to learn a bit about what people are doing at the grassroots level to help their local communities. So far we have visited groups in Great Saling, Stisted and Harwich, but we are keen to discover more examples of Localism in action around the county.

Harwich Connexions

Harwich Connexions was established in 2001 as part of the Market Towns Initiative (MTI) Programme, set up by the Governent to tackle the economic decline many smaller towns were experiencing. A 'Town Health Check' for Harwich was undertaken, which highlighted a decrease in services and employment and a rise in social deprivation in the town. In particular employment in traditional industries such as shipping and fishing had declined.

The town was awarded a £250, 000 MTI grant to deliver projects in the local community over a three year period. During this time Harwich Connexions delivered 35 projects worth £1.75 million.

Some of the projects the organisation currently delivers are:

Harwich Connexions Transport Co-operative was formally launched in 2003 by Alastair Darling MP. The fleet of vehicles includes mini buses, a community lorry, people carrier and a fleet of wheelchairs. The Co-operative is in partnership with Harwich School and Fellowship for the Sick. An estimated 30, 000 passengers used the service in 2011.

The Harwich 1912 Centre was purchased in 2004 using funding from EEDA. The centre was retained as a 26-bed hostel for community, visitor, business and educational use. The Queen and Prince Philip visited the centre in November 2004.

The Tourist Information Centre was reopened in 2004 and received an award for the best TIC in the East of England twice. Unfortunately funding was cut and it had to close in 2010. The building was then gifted to the CAB.

The Enterprise Centre was purchased in 2007 and comprises of 11 small business units, with only one vacancy currently. The rent per unit is £2, 000 pa inclusive (except telecoms). Profit is then fed back into other community projects.

The Ark Family Centre is run as a pre-school and all money raised is used for other projects.

Noah’s Neighbourhood Nursery was rescued by Harwich Connexions, who became the managing agent in 2008. There are 50 places for 0-5 age group.

The Rural Shopper Bus service runs two routes on Fridays (which is market day in Harwich and Manningtree) for £2 single/return or free to bus pass holders.

The Hospital Hopper bus runs from Harwich to Colchester, twice daily Monday to Friday for £5 single/return or free to bus pass holders, and has to be pre-booked. It's currently funded by Harwich Fellowship of the Sick as a one-year pilot and employs two part-time drivers.

Harwich Connexions has raised over £200, 000 for Essex Air Ambulance through hosting motorcycle days and has improved the town by installing benches, refurbishing the bandstand, play areas and more.

For more information visit www.harwichconnexions.co.uk

Stisted

As winners of the 2011 Essex Village of the Year Competition, organised by RCCE and sponsered by Essex and Suffolk Water, Stisted boasts a strong community spirit and motivation to improve the quality of life for residents. The locals run their own community shop and post office, set up after the orignal one closed, which also sells surplus produce brought in by residents and the money donated to charity.

The newly refurbished village hall offers a regular venue for activities, groups and societies, and now offers a computer training suite from where BBC 'First Click' courses are run. The hall trustees are also responsible for managing the adjoining allotments, which have recently been expanded to include a community orchard; amongst the local Essex apple and pear trees are also a number of bee hives. In the car park outside the hall the sport for which Stisted has become internationally famous is played - Petanque. The village has two teams, one of which is the oldest in Essex and second oldest in the UK.

To compensate for the loss of the conventional bus service, a community minibus service runs to Braintree via Freeport every Wednesday and alternate Saturdays, and a monthly minibus provides trips out for leisure and shopping. A totally voluntary but highly effective 'Good Neighbours' scheme helps local people get out and about.

For more information visit www.essexinfo.net/stisted-parish-council


Great Saling Action Group

Great Saling Action Group comprises of six members of the community who, with assistance from Jan Cole at RCCE, took a lead on producing a Parish Plan. Approximately 50-80 people from the community (total population of around 230) were involved in producing the plan and the group achieved a 68% response rate to their questionnaire.

An event was also held in the village hall on a Friday and Saturday to promote the Parish Pan. Great Bardfield Primary School made a model of the village and a chef from Kenya provided free food. Making the Links provided £2000 funding for the event and Parish Plan, and food was donated from local restaurant Timbers.

Talking to the group flagged up some key issues with reagrds to rural services. As is happening in many villages across the country the pub has closed down due to an increase in rent, which has had a big impact on the community; the pub was the heart of the village and a real social hub for many. Transport is also an issue for residents as only two buses per week stop in the village.

The Parish Plan is now completed and the group have started to tackle the actions. New play equipment has been installed in the playing fields next to the village hall and work has begun on some new biodiversity initatives.