Keeping villages at their best

Rob Gooderidge (centre) the Parish Caretaking Co-0rdinator with  some of the walled garden workers Kevin Purvis (left)  Jonathan Broadbent (background) and  Marc Rickards (right) working  on the verges at North Stainley near Ripon.
Rob Gooderidge (centre) the Parish Caretaking Co-0rdinator with some of the walled garden workers Kevin Purvis (left) Jonathan Broadbent (background) and Marc Rickards (right) working on the verges at North Stainley near Ripon.
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How far can the rubbish from a takeaway burger travel? Chris Benfield talks to a man who knows.

ANYONE who can think of a list of little jobs that need doing in the neighbourhood will envy the country parishes who have a team like this on call.

The odd-job squad from the Ripon Walled Garden Scheme in the picture will pick up litter, clear drains, mend public seats, playground kit and bus shelters, paint whatever needs painting, strim verges, sweep up leaves and find a way to fix most other things which might crop up on a parish clerk’s to-do list.

Much of Nidderdale is signed up for regular caretaking visits from the Ripon team, thanks to support from a strand of European funding. And a number of parishes elsewhere in Yorkshire have found the resources to follow the fashion.

Some call their contractors parish caretakers. Others like to say they are employing “lengthsmen” – a reference to the old-fashioned system of having a designated hand in charge of every stretch of highway.

Nobody is quite sure who was first to cotton on to the idea that rural development funding could be used in this way but the idea has taken off, and there are queues of local councils applying to copy it.

The hope is that councils will carry their schemes on, somehow, once the start-up funding runs out. Meanwhile, a lot of city dwellers will be wondering why they cannot have a bit of the same around their way.

Former schoolteacher Rob Gooderidge, who runs the Ripon scheme’s caretaker squads, says: “It is an idea which could be expanded as far as you can see, almost anywhere you look.”

The Walled Garden Scheme was set up to provide employment for the not fully able, so the cost of the labour is subsidised to some extent by social services.

Mr Gooderidge costs his time, as lead handyman, at £15 an hour, plus VAT, and takes as many assistants as he can keep busy. Elsewhere, caretaker deals are a straight man-hours contract with people like Michael Gudgeon, who runs Horton Landscaping at Horton in Ribblesdale. He has a caretaker contract for Bentham, which takes up half a day once a fortnight, and is tendering for more at Hellifeld, Long Preston and Gargrave. Gillian Muir, at the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, has been working with Katie Penn at Nidderdale Plus, a residents’ association based in Pateley Bridge, to assist development of caretaker schemes by teaching parish clerks how to get funding among a host of other things. She said: “We are hoping parishes will use their precepts (supplements to council tax) to keep their caretaker schemes but we are exploring their options.”

Contractors must have public liability insurance and a range of licences – for pesticides and chainsaws so they are unlikely to come straight from the dole queue.

Rob Gooderidge says: “I am regulated up to the eyes and there are some jobs I have to say ‘no’ to. Strimming along footpaths is a big job in the summer and I will spend most of November planting bulbs for daffodils and crocuses. And I am an expert in the radius of how long it takes to eat a McDonalds’ meal. I drive through places which have caretakers and parishes without and you can really see the difference. ”

Some caretaker schemes include restoration of monuments and woodland planting. And Malhamdale uses its “lengthsman”, a local odd-job man who is hired by the hour, to care for a public toilet previously closed for want of attention. Parish council chairman Chris Wildman said: “It would once have been the responsibility of Settle District Council. But with centralisation we got Craven District Council, which didn’t want to know.

“There is no legal obligation to provide public toilets. But Malham gets a million visitor days a year. We put an honesty box outside the toilet which brings in a considerable amount. The LEADER funding came in as a late help. But if we had to, we could fund the whole thing from a parish precept.

“Every council has wards and I think councillors at ward level could find ways to do the same sort of thing if they wanted to.”

Funding from Europe set to run out

The Darley scheme was started four years ago with some funding for AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Then an EU project called LEADER (Liaison entre actions de développement de l’économie rurale) put up a pot which has been used to keep it going and copy it in and around Nidderdale AONB.

However, the LEADER funding runs out next March.