Fawside . . . on our side

Christina John says that everyone is very welcome at the Fawside office; some when they come in, and some when they leave! [That’s a friendly joke, by the way! In fact, it’s hard to leave the office without a smile on your face.]

Fawside is the friendly community development organisation at the heart of Allendale village life. But it’s a quiet group, and not many folks are quite aware of its thirty year history, or of how it fits in with everything else in the village.

So this diary entry is an attempt to rectify that, and to describe Fawside, with the help of Margaret Stonehouse, its chair. We may wish to continue to edit this piece throughout the next few weeks as well, depending on how well the first few iterations go: this piece, for example, is iteration two on the editing front.

Anyway, to begin at the beginning: Fawside was set up by Zane Foster (who lived in Allenheads) with the blessing of Allendale Parish Council, back about 1990, as a formal way to ensure that local people had a voice in the village’s affairs (ie, as a campaigning organisation) and as a formal organisation for grantsmanship purposes (the parish council could not then make any application for external funding). Its first office was a joint affair with BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, now re-branded as TCV) upstairs in the big Baynes house at Bridge End, but later the group moved into Kirton House above the butcher and shared clerical capacity with the Parish Council. Fawside was involved in lots of environmental work in those days, in particular dealing with the banks of the River Allen, its footpaths and wildlife (water vole, dipper and mink surveys, investigating links between predators and prey), and with other conservation efforts throughout these valleys, like fellside drainage (grips and retainers/gabions).

Increasingly, and especially after the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001, the group became involved in social concerns, as for example when the bus service was abrogated, and simple transport for the elderly and infirm was a challenging matter. In many ways, the infrastructure of the village was deteriorating, and Fawside tried to help prop up services and facilities, as more and more businesses became defunct (the residential centre Deneholme, for example, an outdoor activity centre for the region’s school-children that was curtailed by a cash-strapped county council; the demise of the Dale Hotel; the midnight flit from the Heatherlea). It was not clear how Allendale would survive, but the so-called LEADER programmes developed by the EU (a French acronym: Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Economie Rurale – meaning ‘Links between actions for the development of the rural economy) brought millions of pounds to the North Pennines region (LEADER, LEADER2 and LEADER+) and Fawside was well-placed to acquire money from there, and from other sources such as the Northern Rock Foundation, for the improvement and renovation of the village’s infrastructure.

High in the sights of the ambitious little group was the goal of bringing Deneholme back into local, public use, but before this ambition could be realised, Zane died suddenly, and the group was sent into some disarray. Everyone was shocked, but a process had been started, and the Fawside trustees, with the help of Tynedale District Council, fought off competition and battled with Northumberland County Council for its acquisition. Years of grantsmanship (including an extraordinary funding injection by the LEADER programme), project management and managers, and a huge renovation programme later, Deneholme was opened again as a residential centre for private hire, with its staff maintained according to ‘voluntary sector’ parameters.

In many ways, the concerted effort to re-develop Deneholme was made as a kind of lasting memorial to Zane, and many tears were shed on its eventual completion, as it began its new life; the effort had been all-encompassing, and pre-occupied the energy of the little group for most of a decade.

Before, and often during, the Deneholme pre-occupation , Fawside with its project manager James Watson, had had a hand in a variety of local efforts: helping to acquire the fields for the Football Club, which became Allendale Sports Club; renovation of Whitfield Parish Hall and Sinderhope Community Centre; acquiring a community mini-bus; securing the community photographic archives (still an ongoing project); development of the Youth Service; organising foreign student exchanges to work on environmental projects, and many many smaller ventures.

But of all the many projects to which Fawside contributed, the community was perhaps most proud of the Deneholme project; nevertheless the toll on the Fawside group was telling, and although the Deneholme story was a crucial cog, for example, in the Village of the Year competition, it became clear that the mandatory ‘voluntary sector’ concept for Deneholme wasn’t quite working. The group were hampered by the ‘voluntary sector’ rules imposed by the very funders who gave them money. But nobody, from local councillors up to the regional development level, wanted the effort to fail. So the decision was taken by Fawside’s directors to lease the premises to a private concern, and everyone was delighted when Becks Training Ltd, who had hired the place for several of their outdoor training activities, took over the first ten year lease.

But this lease to a separate private enterprise left Fawside itself with no home. Where could the group be housed? The little box room at the back of Allendale Village Hall was available (grant requirements for the building of the New Hall had meant that the space had both a toilet and an (unfinished) shower cubicle, but the room also had a window and external access by the balcony door, as well as internal access from the hall), and it could, perhaps, be a temporary place for the exhausted Fawside directors who remained to find their feet again. After settling in, Fawside was able to pay a fair rent for the office, which eventually was renovated to suit its new occupants, so that the village hall now had a new and sustaining source of revenue. And Fawside, once again, was physically at the heart of the village, where it has remained for at least another decade. And where does Fawside get the money for its rent of the little office in the village hall? From the rent monies it receives for Deneholme, of course, which also pays for Christina John’s part-time hours.

Through all these challenges, moves and changes, Christina John has been the consistent and stalwart anchor for the group. Indeed, she and her family decorated the new office which had become quite dingy over the years, while another of the group’s directors laid the new carpet tiles, so that with bespoke furniture to fit the space, the room is now quite fit for purpose. And Christina is there weekday mornings from 9:30 until 1pm, dealing with a variety of enquiries from the community in a variety of spheres.

It may not be transparently obvious, but for the North Pennines AONB to acquire useful sustaining grants for its staff, it must go out and develop projects that match with the remit of the non-governmental organisation. To do that, the big NGO needs to work with local development groups on the ground, as it were. And in Allendale, situated in the south-eastern section of the AONB, Fawside was the go-to group to work with. So when a £2.4million grant was announced, from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, for the development of heritage works in the Allen Valleys, the Landscape Partnership that was a joint effort between the NP-AONB and Fawside, was the recipient. And the Landscape Partnership too would need an office. How fortunate for the village hall that space could be carved out of the ‘old kitchen’ (previously a dumping ground for Scouts equipment, which was moved to more convenient and accessible storage units in the Green Room), and that a bespoke office investment could be made there. Not many people know that the payment of four years of rent up-front by the Heritage Lottery fund for that office, meant that the condemned oil burner in the Main Hall could be replaced with a newer more efficient furnace.

These projects and programmes go on behind the scenes, mostly, but with both offices still functioning (as the Resilient Allen Valleys project helps to ensure that the six new groups growing out of the Landscape Partnership project will be sustainable) for this coming year (as Christina takes enquiries, helping with computer challenges, offering support to the Allen Valleys Oil Collective, providing secretarial minute-taking capacity to various groups, printing the Allendale & Allen Valleys Pocket Directory with the Lions, and numerous other tasks) . . . as these offices function steadily along, so Allendale can thrive and develop gracefully.

Not a bad heritage, really, for a group set up thirty years ago to give voice to local folks, not bad at all!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *