Andy Lock: National Coalfields Day and the fantastic work being delivered across coalfield communities during COVID
By Andy Lock
Head of Operations (England)
On this second National Coalfields Day it seems a good time to reflect on the fantastic work being delivered across coalfield communities in what has been and incredibly challenging year for everyone. A year ago we marked our 20 year anniversary by bringing groups together from all over the English coalfield, to share experiences and celebrate what makes the coalfields special. Our CEO, Gary Ellis, commented then, “Meeting with the complex needs of our communities is no simple task. Every neighbourhood is different, and each has its challenges. What we want to do is to create the infrastructure that will return these small cities, towns and villages to the once thriving locations they were.” His words seem even more poignant now and our resolve even stronger as we all come to terms with the impact of covid.
We were well aware of the existing challenges that faced coalfield communities but we also know our communities have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The health inequalities and economic fragility have been laid bare and we urge the UK government to ensure this is recognised with the required scale of support to meet their `levelling up’ commitments.
I’d personally like to thank our teams who adapted quickly to new ways of working to ensure our services were uninterrupted. Our Communities Working employment and skills service, continued supporting people in South Yorkshire offering remote advice and support at a time when job vacancies decreased and unemployment rose.
Our Coalfields Community Investment team adapted their offer and created two new funding opportunities. The Covid-19 Recovery and Resilience Fund was established after our trustees recognised the incredible response from community organisations to the pandemic but they needed quick and accessible grant assistance to help adapt and respond to growing demand.
They also established the Coalfields Food Insecurity Response Fund as the pandemic surged food poverty with more people being referred to food banks and family members missing meals due to a loss in income. We joined forces with Company Shop, who matched our grant award, to offer fast track funds to projects responding to the growing challenges of food insecurity.
However, not all programmes could continue. Our `sport for change’ programme, Game On England, had to cancel all delivery in line with government restrictions, meaning almost 1000 young people across Yorkshire and the East Midlands could no longer attend our weekly football sessions. We also had to close our Hub House in Horden but hope to re-open in 2021 and continue providing support for individuals in crisis.
Despite these challenges, in October we were told we had been successful in securing £1,000,000 from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Community Match Challenge fund. With our match contribution it created a funding commitment of £2,000,000 for England’s coalfields to help scale up our grant making responses.
We have commenced a new area based project in Airedale (near Castleford) where a Community Employment and Skills Coach and Health and Wellbeing Activator will be working with residents to help them find work and become more active. Both posts have been enabled with funding support from Yorkshire Sport and Wakefield Council’s ESF PEAT programme. We have also embarked on an exciting new partnership with Five Towns Primary Care Network in Wakefield who is providing the funding for three additional Health and Wellbeing Activators to extend delivery into Knottingley and Normanton too.
The next twelve months are likely to be even more challenging for our communities but we are optimistic the vaccination programme will have an impact and the organisations who deliver such vital work will benefit from an easing of restrictions. We will continue to champion our communities, adapt services to respond to local needs, expand our reach where we can and work in partnership to make a difference.
On behalf of all my team at The Coalfields Regeneration Trust, I would like to wish you a Happy Christmas and a healthy New Year.