For 30 years the name “Groundwork” has been synonymous with changing the lives of local people, and changing local green spaces for the better.
How did it all start?
In 1981/82 the Countryside Commission established “Operation Groundwork” in St Helens as an experiment in “urban fringe” management. Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine developed the idea and in 1983 Oldham and Rochdale was selected as one of five new Groundwork areas.
The Oldham and Rochdale Groundwork Trust was established as an independent organisation to play a leading role in the “greening” of the two metropolitan boroughs. Our aim was to enhance and manage the urban fringe areas by creating a partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors.
By November 1983 the Trust was formally incorporated as a limited company. Rt Hon Charles Morris was elected as Chairman, and Robin Henshaw as its first Executive Director. The first aims of the Trust was to reclaim derelict sites, find productive uses for wasteland as well as helping community groups, schools and businesses to become more environmentally friendly.
In June 1984 after temporary accommodation in Prospect House, Rochdale and Oldham Civic Centre, Sir Derek Barber the Countryside Commission Chairman opened the Trust’s headquarters in Shaw. In July 1985, the Trust organised the first national Groundwork conference at Hopwood Hall with Lord Winstanley as guest.
By 1987, Groundwork’s activities were starting to receive national attention. Restoration of Pennine Way footpaths and an environmental programme at Shaw & Crompton Parish Council were two of over 1000 projects that involved thousands of local people, businesses and community groups. Many resulted in high profile visitors to the area.
HRH the Princess of Wales became the Groundwork movement’s first Royal visitor when she opened the nature trail at the Trusts’ Princess Park Countryside Nature Park in November 1987. She met a very wide range of those involved in Groundwork including staff, board members and volunteers, school groups and public and private sector partners. A sweatshirt was presented to the Princess of Wales which later in April 1988 received national coverage when worn by Prince William.
Expanding remit of regeneration
During the first decade the Trust’s remit expanded and projects began to encompass wider elements of regeneration, education, employment support, business engagement and community management. One example of this is the Volunteer Project Assistant (VPA) programme which started in the early 1990’s. The aim was simple – to provide unemployed graduates with real project management experience that would kick-start their careers and help them get a job in their chosen profession. This programme has evolved over the years but in total we have helped over 2,000 graduates and in turn they have contributed to many positive projects in the local area.
Protecting local nature sites
Throughout its existence Groundwork has maintained close links with a number of local nature sites. These sites include Boarshaw Clough in Middleton, Summit Nature Site in Littleborough and Jubilee Nature Site near Shaw.
In 1995, Groundwork along with Boarshaw Action Group and Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council saved Boarshaw Clough Nature Site from development. Part of Boarshaw Clough was purchased by Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale after the Millennium Commission awarded £22.1 million of National Lottery funding to the Changing Places scheme for the regeneration of derelict industrial land across the country. We have continued to develop Boarshaw Clough and use the site as a base for school visits, voluntary projects and training for local residents.
New base, new programme
In 1998 Groundwork moved headquarters to one of the few listed buildings in Oldham, the Victorian Higginshaw Board School on Shaw Road. Now called the Environment Centre, the building was refurbished by local people, learning new skills as they brought the building back to its former glory.
In the same year the Prince’s Trust Team programme started, offering new skills and qualifications to local unemployed 16-25 year-olds. Well over 3000 participants have benefited from this programme over the past 15 years. In 2001, Prince Charles visited the Trust to look at the work of Prince’s Trust and our wider offerings.
Into the new millenium
Throughout the 2000’s Groundwork carried out a wide variety of interesting regeneration projects. These included; Youthworks – a programme to engage young people within targeted communities; Smarter Streets – a neighbourhood improvement project with Oldham Council; and Newlands – a programme to improve a large woodland area in Rochdale.
Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale has built up a strong reputation for helping people through training and employment schemes. Many of the programmes we have delivered have involved community engagement and helping longer term unemployed client groups. These successful programmes have included Intermediate Labour Markets, Future Jobs Fund, Flexible New Deal (highest performing Step 2 provider in the national Serco network), Employability Skills Programme (direct contract with the Skills Funding Agency) and Work Programme.
Supporting local businesses
Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale was one of the first Groundwork Trusts to provide environmental support to local businesses and this work expanded further as a delivery partner of the ENWORKS programme. In just over 10 years the ENWORKS programme in the North West of England assisted over 12,000 businesses to achieve £155 million of cost savings, save 712,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, and create or safeguard 8,141 jobs.
Changes at the top
In 2007 Robin Henshaw retired as Executive Director after 25 years. Cliff Ellison was appointed as his replacement. In June 2008, Rochdale businessman Richard Tang was elected as Chairman of Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale, bringing a wealth of experience, enthusiasm and professionalism to the Trust. Groundwork faced a number of challenges in this time including the recession and the change from grant based charity funding to contracts and commission based work.
Recognition for Lisa
In April 2009, Lisa Daly, a Prince’s Trust participant from Rochdale was honoured by the Prince of Wales as the Young Achiever of the Year at the national Prince’s Trust Awards. Lisa later went on to become a Prince’s Trust Team Leader to help other young people on the Team programme.
Improving our impact
In recent years we have increasingly established successful partnerships with a number of housing providers. These programmes combine improvements to public spaces or housing refurbishment work with training for unemployed tenants – helping them to gain the skills and experience needed to secure full-time employment.
In December 2012, Vicki Devonport started as Executive Director, taking over from Cliff Ellison who retired after 5 years at the helm of Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale.
As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, Groundwork Oldham & Rochdale continues to have a massive impact on the local area. In 2012/2013, the Trust worked with over 5,000 individuals on projects and training programmes, enabling over 1,400 qualifications to be gained. We improved almost 40,000m2 of land and maintained over 90,000m2 of land – a combined area larger than 18 football pitches! We supported 81 businesses in becoming more resource efficient and environmentally friendly – diverting 36,940 tonnes of waste from landfill and cutting 4,690 tonnes of C02 emissions.
We look forward to the next 30 years, serving local residents, working in partnership with even more organisations and continuing with our aim of changing places and changing lives in Oldham and Rochdale.