Stradishall is a small village set in the in beautiful west Suffolk countryside and home to around 500 people. It is well served with a village shop and a pub, a cafe, a garage and a nursery school but split into two parts divided by a major road. Within the village there is also a playing field and playground which is increasingly becoming a focus for successful community events and activities.
But a dozen or so years ago, the future for the village looked somewhat different; the Parish Council faced several challenges. The church needed major repairs and an old dilapidated village hall which had seen better days had to be demolished - reducing opportunities for local people to come together and make connections.
At the same time, the company that owned the village playing field announced that they wanted to dispose of it and property developers had expressed an interest in building on the land. The special nature of Stradishall village appeared set to change.
Threatened with the loss of their green space the village rallied together; a huge community fundraising campaign, led by the Parish Council resulted in the residents of Stradishall raising £25,000 to buy the playing field land through a mix of individual donations and crowdfunding. As well as successfully safeguarding the future of their local green space, the campaign brought the community together and fostered a sense of local pride. As Parish Clerk, Joanne Kirk says: "The fact that local residents were willing to make a financial contribution to our playing field shows just how much they value this green space, and how important it was to village life. We found we could apply for funding to support equipment and activities on the recreation field, but there are not grants available for the purchase of land – so we had to find our own innovative solutions".
The Parish Council had conducted an extensive review to ask residents about the future of their community, Stradishall Village Review Group was launched to promote community cohesion and address issues raised in the wide-ranging village review. The success of the playing field campaign inspired the Village Review Group to improve its facilities and try and build community cohesion through family-oriented events, so they bought a robust, large marquee for events; effectively a temporary village hall. Over the summer events included children's games and a treasure trail to support the Church Flower Festival and a very popular family barbecue and party sponsored by the parish council. The celebration event was enjoyed by residents from across both parts of Stradishall - some of whom had never previously met. The aim of creating a welcoming, safe, community space where residents of all ages can meet, exercise and enjoy themselves was successful.
With the playing field site now owned by the Parish Council and becoming increasingly important to village life the community wanted to protect it as an open space for future generations and to update the existing provision to cater for a wider number of people. As part of the village review almost two thirds of respondents welcomed the idea of outdoor gym equipment - the nearest gym is an eight-mile drive away and there was nowhere local for fitness classes. People will be much more able to take control of their own health and fitness if it is made easy for them and if facilities are available locally. An outdoor gym would be a perfect opportunity for residents to get fit whilst enjoying being outside and meeting their neighbours.
"Don't rely on one big opportunity, consider several smaller grants and apply for lots of little ones if that is what available... the lottery, council funding or specialised local charities. Sometimes a smaller grant can unlock matched funding from a second source."
Joanne Kirk, Clerk, Stradishall Parish Council
The opportunities to deliver both these aspirations came together through the Fields in Trust Active Spaces Programme - funded by the London Marathon Charitable Trust. The Active Spaces programme combines the protection in perpetuity of green spaces, together with revenue funding to engage inactive people on those spaces. Each site protected as an Active Space is funded to deliver a physical activity project on-site up to the value of £5,000 to serve local needs and target identified groups of less physically active people. Outdoor gym equipment is being installed and will allow community members to work on their own fitness at their own pace and in their own time. This funding - combined with several other grants - has helped improve facilities on the recently acquired recreation ground.
Parish Clerk Joanne Kirk advises others in the same situation to apply to as many funding sources as possible: "Don't rely on one big opportunity, consider several smaller grants and apply for lots of little ones if that is what available... the lottery, council funding or specialised local charities. Sometimes a smaller grant can unlock matched funding from a second source".
The Parish Council has been working with Fields in Trust and a Deed of Dedication is now in place to legally protect the playing field as an open space in perpetuity. However, protecting the green space, forever, was not the end of the process. Future plans include phase two - updating the existing play equipment and providing some benches, so visitors can sit and chat when they visit the playing field. Improved facilities will increase use of the green space, help to tackle rural isolation and give people a place to meet up and to get to know one another.
David Sharman, Fields in Trust Development Manager for London and East of England, including Suffolk, said: "This is an excellent example of an entire community coming together to fund their only recreational space and community facility, with the Parish Council and residents working together to achieve this success. The council and community have continued to raise funds to improve the space, including installation of outdoor gym equipment funded by Active Spaces, as well as a new playground".
Stradishall Parish Council has a clear vision of the positive changes that are helping improve the quality of life of village residents. Securing the future of the playing field and generating initial financial support for new gym equipment has helped with further funding applications for additional developments – and helped kick-start a new impetus for community engagement in the future of the village on their local green space.
Joanne Kirk reflects on the journey: "I would say you should keep up the pressure and work with the momentum - sometimes we felt we were struggling with major obstacles but what at first seemed impossible did become a reality - the message is... don't give up! The results are definitely worth it".
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