As it reflects on its recent achievements and successes, Leigh Neighbours community project has chosen to take its inspiration from the festive season!
According to the group’s Chair, Susan Gredecki, The Twelve Days of Christmas seems an appropriate way to sum up what the volunteers have achieved over the past twelve months.
“We’ve drawn parallels to this traditional Christmas song as a fun and festive way of looking at how Leigh Neighbours is progressing,” says Susan. “This exercise gave us an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done and to share it with those who have helped us on our way, such as the volunteers and the community groups who have all played a part in the Leigh Neighbours journey this past year.”
So how does the well known Christmas anthem reflect what Leigh Neighbours has achieved?
Well, there are twelve meetings every year of the Leigh Neighbours Project Board, which is made up of local residents who share a common goal: they care about the Leigh Neighbours area and are keen to ensure the million lottery windfall is invested wisely for the greatest good of the community.
Susan explains: “We’re all very different individuals but we all have this in common. And we’re always keen to hear from local residents who would like to get involved. Getting involved in the community brings its own rewards, not least the skills you learn, the opportunities to meet new people and the knowledge that you’re making a real difference.”
Eleven relates to the number of bicycles our friends at Gearing Up donated to us for our sponsored Summer School at Sacred Heart RC Primary. Gearing Up is a Wigan-based social enterprise which recycles old bikes and fixes them up to sell on or donate. They recognised the value in supporting this joint initiative between Leigh Neighbours and Sacred Heart, and donated 11 bikes to the school. Headteacher Helen Ahmed says: “During the week long summer school, some of our youngest children learnt to ride a bike for the first time and they were so proud of this achievement as it’s a significant rite of passage which even we, as adults, can recall with fond memories.”
Altogether over the past twelve months, Leigh Neighbours has approved ten Residents Fund applications. The Residents Fund allows local people to apply for up to £500 to help them deliver a project, event or activity in the area. And they are diverse! “They range from an all-weather noticeboard for the community group As in Eden to specialist camera equipment for a project which aims to improve the accessibility of public buildings. People can apply to the Fund simply by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send a very straight forward application form,” explains Susan.
Leigh Neighbours spent nine hours supporting Friends of Lilford Park during the summer centenary celebrations, as well as donating money to help pay for the event to go ahead.
Leigh Neighbours couldn’t have made the progress it has without the support of local volunteers, and we recognise the value of eight in particular who we consider our local heroes. They include Simon Dale from Gearing Up; Michelle Downs of Gordon Street who is a regular green-fingered champion at our hanging basket workshops; and both our PCSOs Gabrielle Fitsimons and Barrie Jones who always step up to the mark.
There are seven charities and CICs (community interest companies) who deliver vital services in our area that we have invested in this year, including As in Eden, Leigh Caring Kitchen and Atherton & Leigh Foodbank.
Meanwhile, we’ve hosted six hanging basket workshops across the area, attracting dozens of residents and schoolchildren who were all keen to learn how to create their own hanging basket. Board member, Christine Farnworth, says: “Hanging baskets are an easy way to spruce up and brighten a neighbourhood and these workshops are always guaranteed to put a smile on everybody’s faces. Young and old alike get stuck in and help create colourful displays for both schools and the wider community.” Look out for notices advertising our workshops in spring and autumn 2016!
Once again, Leigh Neighbours supported the Big Lunch, a campaign from the Eden Project which encourages communities to spend time together over a convivial bite to eat. Our match funding helped local groups and schools put on five Big Lunches, from hotpot at the bingo club to an indoor picnic at a toddlers group.
Recently, we hosted four Christmas Craft Workshops for families to create home-made decorations and cards. Organiser and Leigh Neighbours Board Member Jan Eckersley says, “All four events were popular with people of all ages. As part of the project, we recycled everyday items to give them a new lease of life. As well as being fun, the workshops demonstrated to children that Christmas is not all about the latest gadgets and games but it’s about what we can do as a family and what we can do for the environment by recycling unwanted items.”
Over 2015, Leigh Neighbours has organised three community safety initiatives. PCSO Gabrielle Fitsimons says, “Stop & Lock was a joint project with the police and Leigh Neighbours to help some of our most vulnerable residents feel safer in their homes. Leigh Neighbours provided the funding for added security measures for a number of residents we identified as possible targets. It’s proven to be a great success and we hope to look at other initiatives in 2016.” Leigh Neighbours also hosted two surgeries with other partners which allowed residents to speak in confidence to all the key agencies under the one roof.
Two: at the start of 2015, Leigh Neighbours decided to continue funding our apprentice, Aaron Block, who has been making great progress with Groundwork. So much so, the Board decided to invest in a second apprentice: 49-year-old father of three, Ian Trengove. Board member, John Gredecki says: “It’s not just young people we want to support through our apprenticeship scheme, it’s anybody who shows a will to get on in life. We were impressed by Ian’s determination and we look forward to hearing how he progresses with Groundwork in 2016.”
And finally, we heard that local residents had pulled together to raise the money for Leigh’s very own Christmas Tree which has sadly been missing from our town centre in recent years.
Susan Gredecki says: “When our area in Leigh West was awarded £1 million in lottery money, one of the main priorities local people wanted to address was growth in community sprit. And how better to achieve this than by investing in the annual Christmas festivities? Our £2,000 contribution to one set of Christmas Tree lights is a sustainable investment which we hope will be enjoyed by local residents for many years to come. Local people deserve to have a Christmas Tree in pride of place in the middle of our town centre, and Leigh Neighbours is delighted to help with this collective community initiative, one which everybody should rightly be proud of.”