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Keeping the community together; ‘I have waited 26 years for a club like this’

A warm welcome and a room full of laughter is what awaits you at Mirehouse Residents Group in Whitehaven.

Formed in 2008, the committee of seven encourage local residents and agencies to implement projects and events that get generations working together to improve their quality of life and reduce social isolation.

Activities run out of the Mirehouse Community Centre on Seathwaite Avenue, and with the assistance of grants from Cumbria Community Foundation, armchair aerobics, lunch club, arts and crafts and bingo have all been organised; making a great social setting for a good old craic.

Word quickly spread and members flocked in. The group started to plan for future activities and soon became a lifeline to many that may otherwise have become isolated from the community.

Since 2010, Mirehouse Residents Group has received £69,284 from the Foundation. The first grant enabled the local neighbourhood warden to relocate to the community centre and help address fears of crime in the community. Mirehouse is one of the most deprived wards in England and fear of crime is the biggest problem for its residents.

Grants have supported the running costs of the group and also the costs of community workshops such as poetry and song writing during National Poetry Week. This encouraged local people of all ages to take up creative writing.

Keith Cartner, Community Coordinator, said: “The project encouraged intergenerational activity, as well as improving basic skills in literacy and giving the residents the courage to put their work forward. It was the first time something of this nature had been tried in the heart of the community, and gave residents a first chance to engage in cultural performance and activity.

Jenny Doran who was born in 1927 loves writing poetry. In 1950 Jenny and her husband Billy got their first council house when Mirehouse was a small estate surrounded by fields. Jenny has been a regular at many of the group’s activities and is renowned for her poetry and also helps and encourages others to have a go themselves. This led to the production of Mirehouse Memories, which shared the collected stories of long-standing residents and their memories of life growing up on Mirehouse.

Jenny said: “Without the camaraderie created through Cumbria Community Foundation’s support, this could never have been imagined. Here is a poem from Jenny’s collection about her memories of one of Mirehouse’s community club’s:

The Calder Club was the place to go

The people of Mirehouse loved it so

Groups came from far and wide

Artists, singers, comedians, you were lucky to get inside.

People booked it for weddings, christening parties too

And some for funeral parties, which sadly wasn’t a ‘do’.

There was a lovely lounge, where people gathered for drinks and chat,

Men played cards and dominoes, while the women talked and sat.

There was badminton and bingo, a quiet snug to sit and browse,

To sit in peace and quiet, away from all the crowds

At Christmas there were parties, one for children too,

New Year’s Eve was a great night out, we were often there till two.

It was the best club in Cumbria and sadly now it’s gone,

But we will never forget the Calder Club,

For in our memories

It lives on.

Today you will find Edith Dickinson, a regular to Mirehouse Residents Group, sharing memories and tales of the past. She really does fill the room with laughter with her stories. Born in 1932, Edith has been a resident of Mirehouse for most of her life. She reminisces and remembers how ecstatic she was to move to the estate.  Edith said: “The neighbours were all lovely. A lot of the people on the street have lived here as long as me, or longer. We talked to everybody; we knew everybody and talked over the fences. I have waited 26 years for a club like this!”

Grants have been used to introduce young people to new opportunities and increase their aspirations by engaging them in positive activities. Young people regularly attend its weekly youth group and take part in activities such as arts and crafts, cookery and sports sessions, and drug and alcohol awareness. The Food for Thought Project, proved very successful bringing together residents in a series of activities to help them to make better life choices, including healthy eating.

Alongside Food for Thought, the Fit for Life project has been getting families together for sessions incorporating health, exercise, cookery and other skills to help them towards a healthier lifestyle and increased confidence and self-esteem.

Another project keeping the community together is The Mirehouse Young Voices, which encouraged members of the youth group to work alongside the adults. The aim was to establish a youth voice and start challenging the poor opinions that the older generation often have of young people. It looked at how youngsters could develop their local environment by highlighting areas of concern or improvement from a young person’s perspective.

The area around Mirehouse cattle arch, used daily by school children and the community, had been littered with drug paraphernalia and attacked by vandals, and was ‘intimidating’ to older people. The youth group worked with The Colourful North to paint the walls of the arch, which has now become a much safer area to walk through as parents drop their children off and collect at school.

Mirehouse Residents Group continues to grow, and this group proves its residents are proud to live there and work as a community for the good of the neighbourhood.

Schools at the forefront of the nation’s ‘Food for Life’ scheme

Around 1,000 children have been learning about the importance of local produce thanks to a grant of £11,840 from the Westmorland Family Community Fund.

The Soil Association’s Food for Life School Award programme benefited four primary schools, close to Tebay Services in the Eden Valley: Orton Primary School, Kirkby Stephen Primary School, Crosby Ravensworth Primary School and Beaconside Primary School.

The programme links to the curriculum and encourages a better understanding of growing, cooking and learning to love good food. Its aim is to engage children, parents, staff and the wider community to create a powerful voice for long-term change.

Schools work to a bronze, silver or gold standard, evidencing their achievements against agreed criteria. Activities have included a Farmers Market at Rheged, sausage making masterclasses and design a plate competition.

The Food for Life programme project has been a great success with each school taking part in all the activities on offer. The pupils enjoyed the programme and their appreciation of where food comes from and the importance of good food.

Ian Nutt, Head of Development at The Soil Association, said: “The project has been a great success with each school taking part in all the activities on offer while working towards their Bronze award. It has been wonderful to see how much the pupils enjoyed the programme and their appreciation of where food comes from and the importance of good food.”

Westmorland Family Community Fund have continued to support this project for a further three years with the introduction of a fifth school: Tebay Primary School.

Northern Fells Group secure funding

Initial funding from Cumbria Community Foundation has helped the Northern Fells Group secure major funding to continue to run their Village Agents initiative in rural areas of Eden and Allerdale.

Big Lottery funding, totalling £175,270 will be drawn down over the next 5 years (October 2015 to September 2020) to consolidate the Northern Fells Group – Village Action Project – an initiative to provide 4 Village Agents, based in 4 villages, in the NGF’s catchment area and the popular Men in Sheds workshop and activities.

Northern Fells Group Village Agents

Village Agents work across the area, providing support to residents – linking them into other services, facilitating a wide range of social activities (including drop-ins, walking and singing groups and health promotional activities) and engaging them in oil syndicates, energy switch advice and other NFG services. The Men in Sheds Project runs a twice weekly woodwork session targeted on older men who may be retired, of ill health or socially isolated, bringing them together to share their practical skills and knowledge whilst creating a range of products including bird nesting boxes and Christmas decorations.

Jenny Bland, Chair of the Northern Fells Group commented: “We are delighted to receive this significant award from the Big Lottery Fund, which will ensure that we can continue to deliver and develop both our Village Agents and Men in Sheds projects.

Help for older people

These deliver essential services to older people by providing companionship, practical support and opportunities to engage in a range of community activities. This award will allow us to meet current and future demands, helping to combat rural social isolation and exclusion, alleviate deprivation, improve access to other services and enable older people to remain independent, living in their own homes.”

Funding the project

Matched funding for the Big Lottery grant has been awarded by The Joyce Wilkinson Trust and the Neighbourhood Care Independence Scheme funding, via Cumbria Community Foundation and the group’s own fundraising activities.

About the Northern Fells Group

The Northern Fells Group was launched in Caldbeck in 1999 by The Prince of Wales as one of his 3 Rural Revival Initiative Projects. It is a registered community charity and a Company Limited by Guarantee.

Its catchment area is the 7 parishes of Boltons, Caldbeck, Castle Sowerby, Ireby with Uldale, Mungrisdale, Sebergham & Welton and Westward & Rosley.

The NFG also provides a community minibus, a Lend a Hand scheme, Benefits Support, a medical loan scheme and Easter and summer youth activities. It is supported by 97 volunteers and 11 part time staff.

More information

For more information contact Libby Graham, Fundraising Coordinator:

  • libby.graham@northernfellsgroup.org.uk
  • 079495 08860 or 016974 7147
  • www.northernfellsgroup.org.uk
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