24 December 2011

Volunteering does not replace service

Letter Published in Northampton Chronicle & Echo
I’m in full agreement with the views of Dominic McClean, chief executive of Northampton Volunteering Centre (ViewPoint, December 17). I would like to add that while there are financial savings from the work of volunteers, volunteering should not be viewed as a replacement for core services, rather it should be providing the additional support that can give a more personal and local focus to services for the community

As Dominic wrote, using volunteers is not without its costs both financial and in terms of staff time; many of these costs are up front, the benefits don’t accrue until later. There is no point in the county council calling for volunteers if it has not budgeted for their initial and ongoing support as the effort is unlikely to succeed and only muddy the water for the future. This is probably the worst time to be thinking about recruiting volunteers; the ground work should have been done long ago as part of a wider strategy.

Reasons for volunteering are many but if an emphasis is on filling gaps left by cutbacks then I feel it is likely to discourage rather than encourage volunteers to come forward.

Having questioned the recent awakening of interest in the use of volunteers by the council, I nevertheless hope people will think about becoming involved in their neighbourhood, not just for the saving on their rates, but for the friendship, the sense of community and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Anyone interested in environmental and conservation volunteering can visit our website at www.northamptonspaces.info

17 November 2011

First Friends Form Meeting

One hundred years ago the parks of Northampton were the envy of other towns and whilst there are still a good number the quality has greatly declined. In recent years groups have grown up around town to try to improve their local spaces and while they have had some success it has been an uphill struggle against declining budgets and management changes.
To make the task a little easier in the future group representing ten of Northampton’s parks have come together to pool their resources and form a Northampton Opens Spaces Forum where they can share their ideas and problems.
Their first meeting last night, organised by Groundwork Northamptonshire and Northampton Borough Council, was attended by the support groups and addressed by both the leader of NBC and the Director of Environment and Culture. The meeting was used by groups to share their experiences with each other as well as with the Borough Council. Further informal meetings will be arranged for next year.
The Forum also aims to support the formation of groups in those parks without one at present, as well as welcoming individuals and groups with an interest in the more local parks, play areas, sports areas and green spaces.
A survey of Northampton parks is taking place, go to www.surveymonkey.com/s/79Z3NVL to take part

1 November 2011

New support for parks

Back in Victorian and Edwardian days the parks of Northampton were the envy of other towns. Whilst we still have the good quantity of that era, the quality has greatly declined. It’s not possible to place the cause on anyone or anything in particular; we must all take a share of the blame. TV means that we now take a large portion of our leisure indoors and financial pressures mean that the Council no longer make the necessary investments. These of course are exaggerations because people still do visit local parks in smaller numbers and the Council does what it can, but with no statutory requirement to maintain parks it is an easy area to cut when times are hard, the only cutting now left is the grass.

Within the Borough Council organisation there is no longer anyone with overall day to day responsibility for open spaces, Neighbourhood Wardens take care of the community aspect, Regeneration is concerned with planning, Estate with buildings and Enterprise (the same company that empties our bins) with maintenance. The result has been that there can be confusion even within NBC itself, let alone for those outside.

Over the last decade local residents have come to the defence of the parks they enjoy, helping with minor maintenance work, clearing litter, raising fund for equipment and where possible putting pressure on the Council to do more.

At present around half of our parks are supported by Friends Groups, but they have tended to work in isolation. However, following talks over the last few months, with the support of the community support charity Groundwork Northants, a meeting has been arranged to bring them all together to discuss their ideas and problems. Through co-operation it is hoped that the Forum can pool resources and expertise to achieve more as a group than they can seperately. It is also planned to encourage the formation of new Friends Groups in those parks that don’t have one at present.

Many of the smaller parks, play areas and open spaces are cared for by Resident Associations, it is hoped that they too will be able to benefit, along with those individuals who take it upon themselves to do whatever they can.

The first forum meeting has been arranged for 16 November, where the speaker will be Julie Seddon the Director of Planning & Environment at NBC. If you would like to attend then email NptSpaces@Gmail.com for details and an invitation.

16 October 2011

Apple Pressing at Wilsons’ Orchard

Though I’ve lived in Northampton for over 30 years, and must have past by many times, I never knew about Wilsons’ Orchard until this week.
At Rushmills, trapped between the A45 and modern housing, the orchard dates back 100 years to days when British apples were a major crop. The orchard is named after a Mr Wilson who lived in a cottage by the site and Rev. Wilson who obtain spare apples trees from a local tree nursery man.
The site is now owned by South Court Environmental having been donated to them by Persimmon Homes. Work continues to revive the orchard which last saw commercial use at the end of the 2nd World War.

The warm sunny afternoon brought out a good crowd to view the orchard and sample the freshly squeezed apple juice.

13 October 2011

Reed cutting at Stornton’s Pits

Spent the day at Stornton’s Pits with Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust.

The day’s task was to cut back part of the reed bed which was becoming too dense. Parts of the bed are cut back in on a 9 year rotation so that the new growth will provide improved nesting opportunities for sedge warblers and reed warblers to name but two of the bird that prefer this type of habitat.

Left to nature the bed would become more dense and the dead vegetation would provide the conditions for willow to take hold and in time take over the reed bed.

The reeds were cut down with a brush cutter, piled into long rows and then burnt.

12 October 2011

Work progressing on Connect2 Cycle Way

Work is progressing on the latest phrase of the Northampton Connect2 cycle ways. A new bridge has been installed over the Nene to connect the Briar Hill paths to the one running beside the river behind Cosworth. Work on the foundations and kerbs for the paths between Briar Hill and St James and Duston Mill Lake is under way. On completion this will receive a tarmac surface, giving a continuous tarmac route from Brackmill, though the town by Carlsberg and out to Pineham with off shoots into St James and the southern district.

Foundations are also being constructed for a bridge over the canal and Nene linking Upton Valley Way with Upton Country Park.

8 October 2011

A busy day in the parks

It was a joy to see Delapre Park in full use today with keep fit sessions, 6 a-side football, kite flying, model aeroplane flying, even someone with a model car on the roadway, as well as the usual dog walkers.
It was also a busy one for volunteers, planting snowdrops, crocuses and bluebells in the arboretum. Nothing to see at the moment but we can look forward to extra colour in the spring.
Volunteers busy planting whilst Cllr. Mick Ford
& Brian Bingly MP look on

It was not only Delapre that was out working, Eastfields Park also had volunteers out planting bulbs in an area by the main pond that had previously been prepared by the Groundwork team.

New bedding area