Councillor Priority Fund boosts community projects across Oxfordshire


Projects making a big difference across local communities have received a cash boost from Oxfordshire county councillors.

Everything from community centres and community buses to community fridges have been supported as part of the Councillor Priority Fund.

In February last year, the county council agreed to set aside £945,000 in 2018/19 and 2019/20 for the fund, with charities, groups and organisations invited to apply for support.

It’s all part of the council’s commitment to thriving communities, with councillors best placed to identify local projects that would enable residents to play an active part in their community.

Councillors have £15,000 to spend in the first year, which could be rolled over into the second year when they were given the same amount again.

So far, £513,000 of the £945,000 has been spent, with some councillors indicating they would roll their 2018/19 funding into 2019/20.

Cllr Mark Gray, Cabinet Member for Local Communities, said: “I’m really delighted with this priority fund because it gives councillors the opportunity to support things that really make a difference in their own division.”

Other schemes supported by the Councillor Priority Fund include traffic safety measures, war memorial projects, first-aid training, playground equipment and the installation of defibrillators.

Abingdon: Helping young people to deal with social media pressures

Workshops taking place in three Abingdon secondary schools are empowering students to go online safely and understand risks related to privacy and cyberbullying.

The SMART Project (Social Media Anxiety Resilience Team) is run by The Abingdon Bridge charity and enables young people to recognise and resist pressures from social media.

SMART was launched in January last year with the help of a £7,000 grant from Oxfordshire County Council’s Communities Fund.

Cllrs Alison Rooke, Emily Smith, Neil Fawcett and Bob Johnston, whose divisions are all in the Abingdon area, also made donations from their priority fund and have repeated their support with grants of £2,000 each for the year ahead.

The Abingdon Bridge (TAB) offers counselling and one-to-one support to young people aged 13 to 25 who find themselves in challenging circumstances.

SMART reached out to more than 500 students at Larkmead, John Mason and Fitzharrys schools last year. It has also been promoted through partnerships with housing associations, police, community and other youth groups.

Gary Hibbins, service manager for TAB, said research had shown 70 per cent of young people felt the internet and social media had had a negative impact on their mental health.

“One in three have been targeted, threatened or humiliated online. There is an increasing amount of anxiety and young people are constantly comparing themselves to others,” he said.

“Many young people have also reported that social media has made them ‘less social’. They have become less engaged with adults.”

Through the workshops, students have been issued personal challenges, like having 48 hours away from social media and taking part in things like ‘Make Wednesday a No Phone Zone’.

Larkmead student Seb Pita, 16, said work in the SMART workshop had taught him to keep calm about things he read online. He admitted he was a heavy Snapchat and Instagram user but had made efforts to cut his use of social media and had tried to focus more on things like the gym.

Fellow pupil Leon Godwin, 15, said he had also managed to reduce time spent on the phone. “As soon as I stopped going on social media I wasn’t getting so tired,” he said.

And Charlie Neal, 14, added: “The workshops have helped me to become more sensible online and now I’m a lot more careful with my comments.”

Cllr Alison Rooke said she had known about the great work that TAB does for many years.

“This particular project on social media is clearly something that is really needed. It’s something that is going to have a knock-on effect for the rest of their lives and the lives of those who are in contact with them,” she said.

Cllr Emily Smith said: “I’m really pleased that TAB is going into schools to offer these workshops and in some cases that is leading to further support from the charity.

"Reaching young people as early as possible, and helping them develop strategies for coping with whatever life throws at them, is vital for their mental wellbeing and engagement in education.

“TAB has really stepped up and tried to the bridge the gap with young people experiencing mental health issues. That’s why I was so keen to support them.”

Wallingford: Community fridge overflowing with produce

Wallingford Community Fridge has been overflowing with produce since its launch in December last year.

Located at The Fountain Charity Bookshop in St Mary’s Street, the fridge is stacked full of fresh fruit, vegetables and bread donated by local shops and supermarkets.

People in need are then free to browse through its contents and take whatever they wish to supplement their meals for free. It already attracts up to 20 visitors a day.

The purchase of the fridge was made possible thanks to a £500 grant from Cllr Lynda Atkins from the Councillor Priority Fund.

The project was set up by Tracey Lloyd-Jones, assistant manager at The Fountain.

She explained: “My husband and I saw a TV programme. They did a five-minute snippet showing a community fridge in Southend and thought we could do this in Wallingford from the bookshop.

“It has gone better than I thought. Last week I couldn’t keep the fridge full. The shops and supermarkets have been very supportive and let me know when I can go out and collect donations.”

Tracey is supported by Rachel Eccles, from the Ridgeway Community Church, and other volunteers. Food donations have come from the town’s Lidl and Waitrose stores, plus Marks and Spencer in Didcot.

“We’ve got a local shop that’s just opened called The Cookhouse Deli and the chap from there gave us some bread the other day.

“It’s reaching out to all of our community and the bonus is that it’s helping people who are most in need.”

Cllr Atkins was delighted to see the community fridge working so well.

She said: “It has a number of advantages. It reduces food waste by cutting what’s going to landfill and also provides a source of fresh food to people who may be in more need.

“The team here were willing to host it so the fact that I was able to provide the funding through the Councillor Priority Fund to set it up was fantastic.

“It supplements the work being done by the town’s Emergency Food Bank and really is a win-win.”

The Wallingford Community Fridge is open Tuesday to Friday, 9.30am-4.30pm, and Saturdays from 9.30m-1pm.

Lower Heyford: Striking new centre at the heart of the community

Ramshackle dressing rooms have been replaced by a modern, timber-clad sports and community centre at Lower Heyford.

The £200,000 project was spearheaded by the local community and included £99,500 from the Lower Heyford Village Hall Fund plus a £50,000 grant from the Football Foundation.

There was also major investment from the Lower Heyford Sports & Social Club, Lower Heyford Relief In Need Charity, parish council and Heyford Athletic Football Club.

Cllr Ian Corkin pledged £2,000 from the Councillor Priority Fund which will be put towards a patio area and rubber decking for parking.

Work on the King George’s Sports & Community Centre started in June last year and is well on course for its grand opening on May 5.

The new dressing rooms are a big boost for Heyford Athletic, who are going well in their bid to hold on to the Oxfordshire Senior League premier division crown they won last season.

Cllr Corkin said: “It’s a terrific facility right at the heart of the community. It will be used for so much more than just playing football.

“It has really opened things up and you can imagine people now wanting to hold things like wedding receptions and engagement parties here.

“The community has really led from the front on this. My grant has just been to help with some of the finishing touches outside. I know there’s a grand opening coming in May and I look forward to attending that.”

Local firm JD Varney Builder and Carpenter has led on the project from start to finish.

Cheryl Pike, treasurer and social secretary on the centre’s management committee, was delighted to see the project nearing completion.

She said: “We were short of the money to finish off bits and pieces outside the building so we greatly appreciate Cllr Corkin’s grant and all the other pledges of funding.”

The Bartons: New vehicle for community bus service

The wheels keep turning on a volunteer-run community bus service which is about to welcome a new vehicle to the fleet.

OurBus Bartons launched a fundraising campaign in April last year which has enabled it to buy a replacement bus.

The 16-seater Treka minibus cost £45,000 second-hand and will go into service once signwriting is complete.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth, whose division includes the Bartons, contributed £5,000 towards the fundraising campaign from his Councillor Priority Fund, repeating a donation he made last year.

OurBus Bartons chairman Ken Caldwell said: “Both this year and last year we were very lucky to receive funding from Cllr Hudspeth’s Priority Fund.

“Last year we used it for ongoing maintenance to keep the buses running and for some staff clothing. This year we put the funding towards the replacement bus.”

OurBus Bartons was launched in June 2016 to provide an immediate response to cuts to rural transport and has since delivered more than 14,000 passenger journeys.

Operating from Middle Barton, it serves destinations including Deddington, Steeple Aston, Oxford Parkway, Chipping Norton, Bicester, Begbroke, Yarnton and Kidlington.

It is run by a group of trustees and directors and boasts a dedicated band of around 10 volunteer drivers.

Journeys are made to health centres in Deddington and Chipping Norton, as well as nearby supermarkets.

Mr Caldwell said: “It’s a lifeline to many in the community. We’ve just taken on a new service to the Windmill Day Centre in Deddington which means four elderly members from Middle Barton can get out and about.

“It’s providing them with activities, companionship and a meal, which would otherwise not be possible as none of them have their own transport.”

Cllr Hudspeth said he was delighted to see OurBus Bartons going from strength to strength.

He said: “I represent the Woodstock division which covers a large rural area. One of the key problems in Middle Barton was the lack of a local bus service so the community got together to put on this service.

“It’s providing a useful connection to local services for local people. This priority funding has helped them buy an additional bus so in case one breaks down they’ve got back-up.”

Benson: Little Acorns sprouting extra sessions

A children’s centre has expanded to meet a growing demand for sessions in Benson.

With 1,000 new homes rising rapidly in the village, Benson Little Acorns Baby & Toddler Group has increased from one session a week to four.

The centre, which meets at the youth hall in Oxford Road, attracts up to 20 mums and toddlers per day.

Cllr Mark Gray, whose division includes Benson, has given £1,500 from his Councillor Priority Fund to help towards new equipment and training of volunteers.

Group support worker Helen Spicer, whose three-year-old son Lucas joins her at the sessions, said: “I think the group’s important for everyone in the family. It provides support for mums and dads. It’s somewhere for new mums to share their experiences, ask questions and let off some steam.

“We’re really grateful for this extra funding. It’s a big help as we expanded to four sessions in January.”

Little Acorns hosts ‘stay and play’ sessions on Mondays and Fridays from 9.30-11.30am, and ‘tuck in’ Tuesdays from 12.15-2.15pm, both for nought to five-year-olds. A group for babies up to the age of one meets on Thursdays from 1.45-3pm.

The children’s centre opened in January 2017 and will receive £22,000 over two years from the county council’s Transition Fund – start-up funding for groups providing local children’s services in Oxfordshire.

Cllr Gray said he was pleased to contribute from his Councillor Priority Fund and was delighted to see the group flourishing.

“Little Acorns can be a lifeline for parents. It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’ve got young children you might be finding things difficult,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for parents to share experiences and receive support should they need it.”