Town centre residents in Swindon are joining forces to improve the area, set up allotments and build a renewed sense of community.
The new Central Area Residents’ Improvement Group was formed in May last year to give people living in the area a voice – a forum to address local issues and to work on projects to make it an even better place to live.
Now Green People has awarded the group a grant of £1000 to help them on their way.
The cash will be used to set up a poly tunnel on their allotments, print leaflets and create a video about the group’s vision for the future.
Covering the Railway Village, Cambria Bridge, the David Murray John tower, Crombey Street, Curtis Street, William Street, Westcott Place and Dean Street, CARIG was the result of a series of training sessions called ReDesign Your Community.
Residents attended the sessions decided they wanted to put their new ideas into practice and generate some community spirit.
With the support of the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, CARIG has already carried out a Halloween street clean along the old canal path and Cambria Street Bridge, held a New Year’s Eve party for the local community and worked with Incredible Edibles to stock the flower planters along the Faringdon Road.
Hanna Parry, community projects manager for the Mechanics’ Institute, said: “This is not for complaining about things – we want to do things, to improve the social life and environment.
“We really want to grow the group – with more people from the wider area.”
Linda Ford, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years, is a keen member.
“If we have a group that represents the area, we have more chance of being heard,” she said.
All sorts of new ideas are in the air. Local residents have concerns about the number of buses travelling through the Railway Village, saying they are noisy, and cause pollution and access problems. They are also worried vibrations might damage heritage buildings, including the Mechanics’ Institute – so CARIG is keen to find out if other local people think the buses are a problem.
The group applied to Green People for funding earlier this year – in response to the skincare company’s campaign – ‘Change the World in 20 Ways.’ Individuals and groups across the UK were invited to apply for £1,000 to put towards projects to make a difference in their local communities.
Toni Osborne, who nominated CARIG, said: “The funding we received from Green People has made such a difference to us. We have bought a greenhouse, water butt, wheelbarrow, and hand tools. In addition, we have distributed leaflets and produced a promotional video to raise awareness of the group.
“These elements combined have already attracted fresh interest in CARIG which was our aim. If we can bring more of the community together we can form new ideas on improving the area, and action them accordingly.”
At a recent CARIG meeting, Toni explained that the group was all about supporting each other.
“We want to try and form more of a community,” she said. “There was a lot of rubbish and we all supported each other to clear it up. We have a community allotment at Rushey Platt, and we had a very successful partnership with the Harbour Project, as they helped us and then took some produce home.”
The group has now taken over the allotments at Westcott Place, which is where they hope to set up the poly tunnel soon. This will extend their growing season.
Charlotte Vohtz, who founded ethical beauty brand Green People, said she was delighted the funding was already making an impact on the neighbourhood.
“It’s so nice to see that the funds we have given charities, organisations, and individuals as part of our birthday celebrations are making a positive change to communities. We hope that our gift to these groups helps them for future generations,” she said.
CARIG is also working with the Mechanics’ Trust to gather local people’s views on the Baker’s Arms Community Café project – which should be opening in Spring 2018.
The group hopes produce from their allotments will one day be used in the kitchen at the community café, which will be run by the Mechanics’ Institute in partnership with CARIG.
They held a second New Year’s Eve party at the Central Community Centre in Emlyn Square, which was well received by local people.
“The first was fairly good, but this one had a lot more people, and single people, who might not have wanted to go out to a pub on their own but felt comfortable coming here. People were happy to be able go out on New Year’s Eve and take their children, because it was a family event,” said Hannah. “One mum said it was the first time she’d been out on New Year’s Eve in eight years – because she always had to take care of her children.”
She said the Halloween clear-up in the Cambria Bridge Park had been a great success. Members dressed in Halloween costume to make the event more entertaining.
“It was incredible the difference it made. It took ten of us about three hours and at the end we had collected a mountain of rubbish. I would love to do it every year.”
Tony Hillier, who supports the group, said at a recent meeting:
“I have worked in the community for over 40 years, and I have seen what community organisations can do, and it’s magnificent.
“It’s extremely valuable. We need more people and more resources, but I think it’s magnificent and I look forward to its growth. It’s the simple things, like the flowers, which show everyone cares.”
For further information about CARIG, and to get involved, email [email protected] or join the Central Swindon Community Facebook group.
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