This week I was once again at the Stanley Area Action Partnership. I go there every other month as I am in a tag team with Caroline, another one of the Heads of Service here. It must be six years since I have been going and while at first it seemed a chore I have now grown to enjoy my time getting involved.
At first I didn’t understand the point. A group of people would meet to identify some issues and go away into smaller groups to try and fix them. I guess though it was early days. These action partnerships had only just been set up following local government review and everyone was finding their feet. Over time though, things have happened. Hundreds of projects have been delivered involving relatively small amounts of money that has been invested in the community in and around the town.
Representatives from the county and town councils get together with blue light services, housing trusts, other action groups and members of the public to make a difference. It is local government in action. It is power to the people.
Last night was no exception. There were a couple of subjects on the agenda that were of real importance. The first was the possible effect that Universal Credit would have upon the area. This will see a range of benefits rolled into one monthly payment. The government expects there to be some winners and some losers and only time will tell who is on which side. The group had a number of concerns including that people will need to move form weekly to monthly payment, that only one payment will be made per household and that it all needs to be claimed online. Our work on Digital Durham and Smart Stanley fitted into this last point.
The second subject was Stanley in bloom as part of the Northumbria in Bloom competition. A presentation was given on the work that had been going on to tidy up the verges and plant the borders. Lots of people, young and old, had been involved in digging, sowing and hoeing to make the environment more pleasant for everyone. Apparently eighty eight bags of rubbish were collected from a two kilometre stretch of the Coast to Coast cycle route. Despite it being their (our) first year, they came away with a silver medal. I was told that this was some achievement.
Now it’s easy to knock Stanley. Like many towns in the north east you could argue that it has seen better days yet what has impressed me most throughout my time at the action partnership is the pride and esteem in which the people hold their town and the absolute willingness they show to help out where they can. There was no hand wringing over Universal Credit. Instead everyone rallied to ask what more they could do to help. There was pride in the achievement of Stanley in Bloom and everyone thought about how next time could be better.
Stanley may be a former colliery hilltop town, somewhere between Gateshead, Chester Le Street and Consett but to me, it and its people are a little jewel.