The £40m '˜win-win' plan to transform our coalfields

ANDY LOCK is a man with a plan. To transform former coalfield communities, by giving them the tools to bring themselves out of deprivation, while also generating an income to keep the projects coming. There's only one snag - he needs £40m to do it.

Andy Lock, Head of Operations for England for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, at its residential development by the Dearne Playhouse in Goldthorpe. Picture Tony Johnson.

And the Government said no.

For almost 20 years, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has been dedicated to supporting and improving the quality of life for the 5.5m people living across the country in former mining towns and villages - including those across Yorkshire.

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However, in March 2015, it lost its £10m-a-year Government funding in England, and since then, has been fighting to become sustainable. But as Mr Lock, head of operations for the Trust in England, explains, it has come up with a “win-win” plan - but needs £40m to bring it to fruition.

The No 2 Winding Tower at Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire is demolished in November 2017. Kellingley could be the site of one of the Coalfield Regeneration Trust's new investment spaces. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

“We had the chance to prepare for falling off the funding cliff,” he said. “We resigned ourselves to a new world of self-financing. Now we now have thought of what could be the panacea to all of the problems that exist in the coalifelds - but we don’t have the money to see it through.”

That panacea is a £40m investment fund for the coalfields, that, very simple put, would be used to develop new industrial and commercial space in the most deprived coalfield areas to support the growth of small businesses.

These are the projects that developers shy away from - they are too small to be overly profitable - but would generate enough return to fund the Trust’s social impact projects. So the benefits are multi-layered - providing quality developments in areas where other people might not, with quality space for SMEs, creating jobs in both the development and post-development stages, and funding the charities’ future endeavours.

It’s not an entirely alien concept for the Trust, they’ve invested in property before, including a £1m housing development in Goldthorpe, Barnsley, and a speculative development of retail units in Wigan, but it’s the most ambitious.

Helen Murphy, community employment enterprise coach giving supported advice and guidance to find employment to client Paul Hayes-Hughes in the Community Shop in Athersley, Barnsley. Picture Tony Johnson.

However when the Trust took their proposal to Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry in September 2017, he said no, and that they would have to approach individual Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) to support individual projects - of which there are 14 covering coalfields in England.

“We know that job density in coalfields, especially in outlying areas like Goldthorpe, is significantly lower than the national average,” Mr Lock said. “A lot of investment through LEPs has been centred on major cities and towns, and the ripple effect doesn’t reach these areas.

“We want to develop opportunity in the communities by building, bringing SMEs in, creating opportunities for jobs and skills. It’s taking an area, and using an asset as a tool for regeneration.

“We are not asking for a hand-out. These units will be in demand, but developers won’t build them because there isn’t the scale of profit there. But we will take the risk. Any investment is secure.”
 But to gain investment, they need sites.

Andy Lock, Head of Operations for England for The Coalfields Regeneration Trust in the Community Shop in Athersley, Barnsley. Picture Tony Johnson.

And the first has been identified, here in Yorkshire, on the site of Kellingley Colliery, which closed in December 2015.

Discussions have begun with developers Harworth Estates. Mr Lock added: “That would be a fantastic legacy investment for us. Across the country, it’s going to be about finding the right land, in the right place, at the right price - to develop a plan the local LEP will back.”

Fund will allow Trust’s ‘social investment’ to continue

IT’S TUESDAY lunchtime and the cafe at Athersley Community Shop is buzzing with activity.

Two mothers feed their babies, a pensioner heads out of the Community Shop with a bagful of essentials, a man finishes up his appointment with the employment and skills advisor, and many more tuck in to a low-cost, healthy lunch.

It is just one of the varied projects in coalfield communities in Yorkshire supported by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.

Opened in 2016, a partnership between Community Shop, Barnsley Council, and the Trust, which paid for the fit-out and funds an employment and skills advisor, it offers a range of services to help people get into work, as well as a shop where members can pick up £40 worth of shopping for around £10, a cafe and groups including gardening, mums and toddlers and crafts.

“It helps people in their pockets by making the most of their income, and helps them to improve their skills. It’s not always about ploughing cash in, it’s about mending communities,” Andy Lock said. “The original target was to reach 700 in a year - we did that in six months. In a sense, it’s crisis intervention. People were struggling to make ends meet, so we wanted to help them out of it, not just give a temporary solution or a hand-out, and that’s where the additional support comes in”.

A short drive away in Goldthorpe, next to the imposing Dearne Playhouse, the Trust is building 10 houses.

The £1m development on Washington Road began with the demolition of two derelict houses, and the two and three-bed affordable homes are almost complete.

The site was specifically chosen not only to tackle the ongoing housing crisis and the effects it is having on the most socially and economically deprived communities, but because two bedrooms houses are the most pressing need in Goldthorpe.

“The site had become a magnet for anti-social behaviour,” Mr Lock said.

“The new houses will only be offered to tenants from the area, and we can have a say in the type of people they are offered to, so there is a good mix.

“This is social investment, rather than commercial investment - targeted responses in areas of high deprivation.”

Why it matters

Typically falling within the 30 per cent most deprived areas in the country; coalfields communities continue to face ongoing challenges that result in higher than average unemployment, lack of skills and ill health.

Statistics show there are only 50 jobs for every 100 people of working age, the proportion people with low or no qualifications is 60 per cent higher than in London, and 11.7 per cent report long-term health problems. Since 1999, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust have reached over 2m people and helped 25,500 into work, created or safeguarded 5,500, improved the skills of 1.3m people and helped improved the health of 250,000 people.