Monday, March 12, 2012

The Big Society is alive and kicking in Eastrington

I was proud to be part of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council Corporate Communities Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee that looked into ‘Promoting the Big Society’, I had suggested that the Pretty Up Eastrington (PUE) Group was a great example of the Big Society in action and Jane Irisa (pictured) from the Group attended to give a very interesting and inspirational presentation.

The PUE project ticked all the boxes when it came to what the Big Society is all about – a society where individuals and communities have more power and responsibility, and use it to create better neighbourhoods and local services. It aims to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will take power away from politicians and give it to people.

To develop the ‘Big Society’, cultural change is needed so that individuals take social responsibility, and an increase in community activity is supported.

But this concept is far from new, in my grandparents era it was quite normal for a community to ‘muck in’ to help one another, this is not radical in that we can learn from the past – what is radical is that politicians must devolve more power, decision making and spending to local communities and we must roll back the ‘Nanny State’.

Communication is the key to the ‘Big Society’ - in today’s times people can through the internet readily access information and examples of good practice which they can put to good use in their communities, this we saw during the heavy snow last year which coupled with the Councils winter payments grant acting as the catalyst, empowered many to take responsibility for snow clearing. Just as in the pre ‘Nanny State’ era.

Founded and inspired in 2008 by Jill Cole, Pretty Up Eastrington (PUE) began as a small group of local enthusiasts in the local pub, who had lots of ideas and examples of good practice from other communities. With help and advice from East Riding Voluntary Action Services (ERVAS) the group was able to formalise its structure with a constitution in order to manage fund raising properly.

The group has developed its own website; a facebook page, a photomontage on YouTube, and regularly communicates with the community through traditional means with regular articles and updates in the Parish magazine and has also been featured frequently in local newspapers.

PUE work closely with other village groups as well as Eastrington Parish Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Councillors and national charities like the Big Tidy Up campaign. The Group values its links with other groups and individuals in the village who are also working to make Eastrington a great place in which to live. The Group enjoys great support from Eastrington Parish Council, local Councillors, the Eastrington Golf Society and a number of local farmers and businesses.

The Group’s core mission is to work with, and for the benefit of the whole village and everything they do is based on making their village tidy, pretty and a nice place to live. Their activities help to create a better community spirit, encourage cooperation and communication especially between old and young, and newcomers and established residents of the village. It’s about local people taking responsibility for their own environment.

The Group have also organised the first ever Eastrington Open Gardens Weekend, and an Easter Family Fun Day as well as having a stall at Eastrington Show, and supporting other village activities and fund-raising events including the village open days, the school Gardening Club and the Church’s scarecrow festival.

By fostering good neighbourliness and encouraging creativity, and by learning skills from one another, they have been able to achieve a great amount including the planting flowerbeds around the village, providing hanging baskets, tubs and wall baskets, painting the church gates and railings, helping with village snow clearance efforts and harvesting and sharing fruit. The Group is constantly looking to develop friendships with all ages, seeing neighbours getting to know their neighbours, celebrating their community and playing an active role in society, and having some fun in the process.

The Groups fundraising activities have provided lasting community assets including welcome signs on all four approaches to the village, (I provided the bricks!), litter bins, a village notice board and a school greenhouse. The school greenhouse acts as a focus for the gardening club, fostering a love of nature and an interest in the environment among young children. A knitting and craft club was established to produce items for sale in aid of the Groups projects, lots of tips were picked up from experts including veteran village gardeners and fundraisers, which has enabled the Group to now produce such things as Christmas welcome wreaths, wine (not for sale I may add), juice, jams, pickles and chutneys - details of which can be found here.

Monthly litter picks on the approach roads into Eastrington are organised, and a great many bulbs have been planted in the verges, together creating a pleasant sense of welcome and a spectacular display when driving into the village during spring. This theme is continued in the village with raised beds, tubs, hanging baskets and wall baskets. Much work has also been done at the village pond and the railway station.

There are future plans to develop an allotment and a community orchard.

The group meets regularly at the local pub in Eastrington or the village hall.

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