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Cleadon, englandiving Cleadon its confidence back: an award-winning charity in England's north east has helped over 3,000 people in five years. (Community Regeneration).

The remarkable thing about the Community Regeneration Trust North East is the way it enlists the people of one of Britain's most deprived areas in helping their communities. The National winner for 2000 of the British Urban Regeneration Association Charitable Trust Awards, it operates in an area of north-east England with third generation unemployment and a high level of crime. Some of its volunteers have a history of court appearances and antisocial behaviour.

The charity, formerly known as the Cleadon Community Project, started out in 1996 as a second-hand charity furniture shop, run by four volunteers. Up till now over 200 volunteers have gone through their programmes and the charity now has 63 core members and one member of staff, from all over South Tyneside and surrounding areas. In the year up to August 2001, the Trust served 3,064 people in need.

`We have established a means by which we can give people work experience and build their confidence, while serving vulnerable people in need in their own communities,' says Joseph Main, the Chief Executive Officer.

Set up by a church group in Cleadon Park, the project aims to provide for those who are socially excluded. `It was a desperately needy area with very little investment in housing renovation,' says Main. `There were risks of violence, drugs and youth disorder. It wasn't only the young people who were committing disorder in the streets--we also had 50-year-olds smashing windows and fighting.' In daylight the Cleadon Park area looks quite decent. The only signs betraying its problems are houses whose windows and doorways are covered by metal shields and which have been left by inhabitants who couldn't put up with the street violence and decline in the neighbourhood. `It took a long time to develop the project--to employ people, to put together the volunteering structure,' says Main. `Having been unemployed for so long, people lost confidence in their skills and had diminished hope for the future.'

In response to these needs, the Trust set up its Training Programme for Volunteers. `The most important aim of this programme is to encourage and respond to volunteers' personal aspirations, not just to make them job-ready.' The training department works with each volunteer to create a personal development plan. It looks at training needs, existing skills and new skills necessary to achieve personal goals. The plan is realized through work experience with the Trust and formal accredited training.

Currently there are 29 trainees. `Since we were accredited by City and Guilds [certification system], volunteers have shown more interest in training,' says training coordinator Mark Bennett. `They've gone through so many state-provided training programmes in the past without receiving any certificates and couldn't find jobs afterwards.'

The Trust coordinators feel happy when volunteers go further. `Lots of them move on to local projects, jobs or go into study,' says Main.

Now there are five programmes, mainly delivered by volunteers. One of them provides gardening, household maintenance, transportation and recycling services to people in the area.

Another programme, the Food Bank, delivers food parcels containing enough fresh and tinned food to keep a family for two days and provides for breakfast clubs at local schools. Last year over 500 people benefited from this service and over 150 local children participated in breakfast clubs, which increased school attendance. `An emergency food parcel is a turning point of many people's lives,' says Mark Dunne, the food programme manager. `We've just received a letter from a former prisoner that clearly shows the impact this effort has.'

Fresh fruit and vegetables are also sold at wholesale prices to elderly people living in sheltered accommodation. But where does the food come from? `We get more food for our food bank from corner shops than from supermarkets,' says Dunne. `But donations don't cover the demand and we have had to search for money to buy food.'

Recently they took on some derelict land to grow organic vegetables. `People didn't want to use it because it was not secure,' says Dunne. The volunteers had to get rid of tons of rubbish, fertilize the land and fence the area. `This year we had the first crop--a large amount of vegetables.' Security increased and people started to come back to work on their allotments. `It really has regenerated that area.'

The Trust has received lottery funding to help them buy an abandoned church in South Shields. `When we entered the church we were struck by the presence of God, by the tranquillity reigning there, in spite of its really run-down state,' says Main. The building is currently being converted into a community centre and a decorating course has helped to speed up the conversion work.

Although the renovation is still in process the venue is already being used. They run a cooking course, where young mothers learn to make healthy meals for their kids, and a children's programme. A youth maturity project has also been set up to involve young people at risk of disaffection in voluntary work. The community centre also provides a `drop-in centre' for asylum seekers living in South Tyneside.

`There's a definite synergy between what's going on in the church and the Trust,' says Main. Every morning the staff and volunteers gather together to focus on their day's agenda in shared quiet and prayer. `We are Christianity-based but we don't evangelize to our volunteers or our social clients,' says Main. There are 22 non-Christians who find it easy to work side by side with them.

The Trust finds support from the local authority. `The Trust is respected because many people have benefited from it,' says Main.

Bringing volunteers and clients together in a genuine relationship of support and service-delivery has proved to be a successful response to the core issues in the area. `It's got a circular structure: the volunteers' personal development helps to meet the clients' immediate needs and all together it meets the Trust's needs,' says Main.

The Trust members come from different professional and academic backgrounds. Joseph Main learned about the project through the pastor in the local church he goes to. At that time he was a senior administrator in a company, but was unhappy there. The pastor, Bob Parnaby, is the finance officer and has been with the Trust since its beginning. The training coordinator, Mark Bennett, joined the project after deciding against a career in accountancy; his colleague, Jim Morris has been in the training field for many years. Ian Stimpson, a graduate in theology; is in charge of the Centre for the Community and Anne-Marie Willows, who is responsible for the community volunteer initiatives, has a degree in engineering and used to work for British Aerospace. Mark Dunne, a media studies and management graduate, manages the food support services and Jill Donaldson, who runs the youth project, has a degree in geography and youth work and worked for various voluntary organizations before joining the project.

The Community Regeneration Trust North East is winning not only national and local awards for `best practice in the community' but also people's hearts. `Word of mouth has brought more people and more volunteers,' says Main. `And still we've got so much to do for the community.'

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Title Annotation:Community Regeneration Trust North East wins British Urban Regeneration Association Charitable Trust Award
Author:Stepanova, Anastasia
Publication:For A Change
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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