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Cogenhoe and Whiston Parish Council (Northamptonshire)

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Cogenhoe is a small village (1500 residents) 7 miles from the Northampton. There was a single bus service (subsidised by the County Council) which ran 6 times a day between Wellingborough and Northampton Monday to Saturday. This was primarily used by 7 small villages as a means of travelling into Northampton. These villages have mostly ‘older’ residents so are less likely to own cars or drive. 2/3 of the users have a bus pass. The users of the bus service used it to get to work, shop in Northampton and as a means of getting to the main hospital, getting to school/college and the dentist (for example). The bus was used about 250 times a week.

Northamptonshire County Council decided in April 2018 to stop all county bus subsidies from the 20th July 2018.

We, therefore, had 3 months to set up a replacement service and this job was taken on by the Cogenhoe and Whiston Parish Council Clerk – Deborah Rush with the support of the council, in particular, chairman Jon Bailey. Deborah investigated the options and it quickly became apparent that the only viable option was to set up our own bus service. The aim was to run the service as a not-for-profit so that once it was set up it would not need any continuing support from any of the local parish councils.

We had no knowledge about running a bus service but with a help from other local organisations, we quickly became somewhat of an expert. We applied for a £5,000 grant from the local district council (South Northants) for setup costs. We calculated the running costs to ensure that they would be covered by the bus fare takings, applied for the bus operator’s licence, help recruit the bus drivers, created local publicity and the many other jobs needed to set up the service.

On the 23rd July, the new bus service started called the Village Hopper. It runs 5 times a day Monday to Friday between the seven villages and 4 times on Saturday over an extended route. Much publicity was generated on local radio (BBC Radio Northampton) and in the local press (Northamptonshire Telegraph). Feedback from the users of the service has been very positive. Some people thought they might lose their job due to the difficulty or cost of getting to work. That has not happened. We also continue to carry, for free, those passengers who have a bus pass.

We are the only parish council in Northamptonshire who has replaced their cancelled bus service with a not-for-profit service. So far the bus is meeting our financial targets and we expect this to continue. We have already had requests to increase the service which we are currently investigating. We have had interest from other local groups looking to replace other cancelled or reduced services.

I believe that as a council we deserve recognition for our success and imagination in replacing a very useful highly subsidised service at short notice with a similar not-for-profit service in only 3 months.

Northwich Town Council (Cheshire)

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Northwich Town Council has become a forward-thinking council over the past few years. The Council have made a host of changes during the past 5 years and prides itself on the close working relationship between members and staff to get things done. They are at the forefront of planning the regeneration of the town (with partners) and producing a packed programme of events throughout the year to encourage participation from the whole community to feel proud of their town.   

The town is buzzing with, mainly, free activities held throughout the town’s parks, open spaces and town centre. These include a Community Fun weekend, a refurbished paddling pool, play areas, music festival, family fun days and park-runs to name a few. In partnership with the Northwich BID and others, they host a large Christmas “switch-on” event free to attend with a variety of entertainment.

 The Council has invested heavily in its paddling pool which saw thousands of visitors flock to the facility from as far away as Liverpool and Manchester which is free of charge to all. The council works in conjunction with the borough council to ensure local input forms part of any development of the town.  A Neighbourhood Plan has recently been adopted, there is currently a consultation on the development of a shopping precinct and an art project has ensured a dreary subway has been overhauled with community paintings.  A successful monthly Artisan Market has been established with a Town Council stall hosted by Councillors or Officers available for community engagement. Working with both Northwich Rotary Clubs they have installed three 24/7 accessible defibrillators around the town and also purchased an additional device that can be used at all town events.

The councillors are active in the town and regularly attend local events. The council has moved to a service providing council now offering services to surrounding communities by tendering successfully for grounds maintenance, Christmas lights and trees, playground inspections and much more   

It is noticeable that members of the public are commenting on how the town has changed over the past few years and that people are proud to live in Northwich. Although the national retail sector is struggling, the main High Street in Northwich is full of small independent businesses (many of whom have opened in the past year or so) adding to the vibrancy of the town centre. The aim of the town is to grow the evening economy and in recent months at least 3 new independent eating establishments have opened.

Northwich Town Council should be commended for their part in changing the town to become an example of regeneration in its borough council.

Watchet Town Council (Somerset)

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Watchet Town Council (WTC) is a pro-active, forward thinking council which benefits from a wealth of skills from its hard working 12 councillors and staff of 5.  Watchet has been identified as one of the UK’s most deprived areas in employment and social mobility indices. WTC by working with local businesses, CIC’s and supporting social enterprises such as the new East Quay Development where many jobs will be created, provides the link and voice to address these issues.

With principal authorities facing government cuts, WTC has taken on essential services such as youth service provision, grounds maintenance and public toilets, vital to residents and the tourist economy.

WTC has maintained good working relations with Principal Authorities, neighbouring parishes and works in conjunction with many voluntary groups. WTC operates Watchet Esplanade where it manages community events via an agreement with the West Somerset District Council as landowners. We took back ownership of the Memorial Ground and Community Centre, formerly the Youth Centre, where having undertaken a refurbishment programme to widen its appeal to the community, bookings have increased by 300% in the last 18 months and enabled a programme of low-cost children’s activities throughout the summer.

WTC appoint Cllr representatives onto 20 voluntary/ community groups, and keeps an open dialogue and promotes public awareness by reporting activities via meetings and the Council website.

WTC ensures effective service delivery and has good operational work rotas and excellent management systems in place to do this. It is accountable through a charity committee for sports and leisure facilities on the Memorial Ground and is currently working in partnership with the ‘Somerset and Sports Partnership’ on the ‘Active Spaces Programme’ offering its land for affordable outdoor fitness sessions for families.

In addition to providing a cemetery and closed churchyard, a car park for 75 vehicles, three play areas, tennis courts, MUGA and outdoor gym., established 6 allotments on a new site, runs a weekly summer Wednesday Market, where collaboration with Butlins and the WS Railway sees a special train into Watchet onWednesdays. 

Working with Onion Collective CIC who took over the ‘defunct’ Boat Museum building from WSDC and won grants for refurbishment, WTC helped enable a brand-new Visitor Centre and invested in a new disabled complaint Council Office which is more central and accessible to the town. In enabling this new building come to fruition, the Town Council pushed boundaries with a focus on tourism and economic development. The building has since been nominated for the Somerset Historic award.

WTC is a founder member of the Watchet Coastal Community Team (WCCT), a partnership comprising 30 local organisations. In 2018 WCCT was awarded funding from the Big Lottery as one of only 20 partnerships countrywide in the first stage of ‘Place-Based Social Action’. This is a major achievement and aims to support communities to put social action at the heart of plans to make a positive difference in the local area. Next stages will allow us to bid for further funds up to £500k