Raffles is on the rise as its long-term regeneration continues and continues to build upon its strong community spirit and links.
Community Reach has around 20 years of experience helping to fight poverty and support regeneration schemes primarily in the Raffles and Belle Vue areas of Carlisle. Its latest weapon is the work of its community organisers. There are around 500 community organisers across the country but the two in Carlisle are thought to be the only ones currently operating in Cumbria.
A year ago Community Reach announced it was to recruit the new community organisers whose job it would be to support local residents and help them tackle the issues that are important to them. Emma Brown and Sky Higgins were taken on last May. Since then, they have knocked on the doors of more than 475 residents to find out what they like or dislike about the area as well as their hopes and desires for it. Positives already highlighted by residents include the ‘community feel’ as well as its green spaces and it being handy for shops and bus routes too. Concerns include a lack of play parks for younger children, not enough activities for young people, speeding by motorists, and littering.
Emma says: “The lack of play parks is a concern among many. If you look at that there isn’t really anything between Cara’s Park in Belle Vue and the one at Caldewgate, apart from the little one at Heysham Park. “And when you look at the issue about the cut between Shady Grove Road and Raffles Avenue that we’re looking at, we know from listening to people that there are problems with rodents. We’re hoping that by having a meeting people are able to come up with ideas that could be about turning it into a community garden, or skate park, or they may just choose to have it as green space and then we need to make sure something is in place to ensure it is maintained properly. We’ve had councillor Christine Bowditch be in touch and she’s offered to have the land cleared subject to an action plan that is sustainable for the area.”
She adds: “So, it is all about getting people to think about how to turn their ideas into a reality and helping them achieve that. It can be helping identifying something that involves them getting a shovel themselves and helping to tidy an area to helping put in a bid for money for larger-scale projects.”
“Local people need to take forward ideas themselves. Some people can be really frightened about it and wouldn’t know the first thing about doing anything like that,” Sky says. “That’s where we can help. We’ve got some volunteers who have already worked over the last few months to set up their own support group for parents and carers who have children with extra needs like behavioural issues or health conditions. That’s one of the big successes so far. They’re really keen that it is not exclusive and that anyone can actually go along. They’ve devised a buddy system too which has been working already even before the group has its first proper meeting.”
Mum-of-two Jo Jones, of Sheehan Crescent, is a founder member of the Bee-U support group, which will meet for the first time in Holy Trinity Church, Wigton Road, on 9th February. She says: “I’ve always known there is a gap and a group like this is needed, but I wouldn’t have known how to set one up. I’ve got a child with a chronic illness and there is no help or support for families like ours who fall through the gap of existing services.”
The group has already developed a buddy system ahead of its first meeting. Parents can pair up to accompany each other to hospital and other important appointments. Last year Emma and Sky held a picnic in Heysham Park for families and more than 50 people flocked to a Christmas crafts event.
Emma is a familiar face to many in the west of the city.The 29-year-old was manager at the Blockbuster store on Old Raffles Parade before it closed in November 2013. The mother-of-two worked at the store for 10 years. Meanwhile Sky, 35, has worked in social care and volunteered for many years. Her last job was at the Calvert Trust, near Keswick, mainly on reception and managing bookings for its swimming pool and facilities.
The pair are employed as part of a nationwide network of community organisers, and are based inside the Reach charity shop on Shady Grove Road.
Community Reach provides a range of services including the running of the Reach shop; a recycling enterprise offering low-cost clothes, furniture and bric-a-brac to residents and an access point for help. The Community Reach Hall, opposite the charity shop, also runs a number of courses, clubs and events such as parenting, cooking, computing, budgeting, toddler groups and a soft play area.