Building Futures East: Bringing resilience to Walker

walkersoupsmallThe neighbourhood of Walker in Newcastle is both unique yet typical of communities under stress across the UK. Like many such places, the solutions to the area’s problems need to be found from within, says Anthony Woods-Waters

Walker is one of the region’s most deprived wards but a place that still retains a community strength and cohesion (albeit increasingly strained).

It is a place that has not experienced economic vitality and growth since the demise of heavy engineering and shipbuilding in the late 1970s and early 80s. This area of the city has seen significant investment, both public and private, over the past 30 years, primarily along the Walker Riverside industrial area on the north bank of the Tyne.

While this development has contributed greatly to the city and the region’s economic output, the benefits of subsequent growth through the location and then expansion of marine offshore and oil and gas industries have failed to permeate local communities, with a large proportion identifying that the associated jobs ‘aren’t for them’.

‘Our focus was on more intelligent use of resources that existed, and on alternative

local solutions to secure a double dividend of economic and social success.’

We partnered with a private sector training provider to bring global business to Walker in the form of Nissan Manufacturing UK, setting up a four year programme of skills training that enabled over 700 individuals across the sub-region to move into employment with Nissan or the wider supply chain. However, the cyclical nature of the industry combined with a fragile, and at times capricious, funding regime resulted in the closure of the programme.

Through an award from the Tyne & Wear and Northumberland Community Foundation, together with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, we have delivered a two-year action programme to act as a catalyst for positive local change predicated on improved local social and economic resilience and, within this, increased local social capital.

This work made no assumptions about future local economic growth. It recognised that the era of grand regeneration programmes was at an end and therefore our focus was on greater and more intelligent use of the resources that already existed, towards alternative local solutions to secure the local double dividend of both economic and social success.

The work highlighted, at times in stark terms, the difficulties in bringing together local agencies. This is perhaps unsurprising given the continuing impact of the economic downturn and the severe challenges faced by local government and business, and particularly where these negative forces are brought to bear on a place and communities bereft of economic vitality for decades.

Nevertheless, the focus of the work, in bringing about positive, long term, systemic relationship change sought to do three things:

  1. Identify the positive things already taking place in neighbourhoods and requiring no support or intervention, and ensure that the profile of these activities is raised and celebrated.
  2. Identify projects that would benefit from a small or short burst of support or technical support but would then progress entirely independently. Then to enable and activate this support.
  3. Finally, to identify the gaps and develop an action plan to, where possible, address these gaps within the parameters, overall aims and objectives of the work.
Anthony Woods-Waters is chief executive of Building Futures East.
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