The Glendale Gateway Trust was formed in 1996. The Trust has worked in partnership with key organisations and attracted considerable investment to the area, establishing serious, regeneration credentials.
GGT is a charitable trust, a community development organisation, a community land trust, a social enterprise and a registered social housing provider, these various identities being acquired in response to different opportunities. Its formation predates the period of funding-feast (1997-2008) when so many other trusts in North Northumberland got started and it has steadily built an asset-base which provides an income independently of public funding. Its origins lie in the early 1990s, and in the initiatives of the Northumberland rural community council.
By the early 1990s, a small ‘local economic development group’ had been set up, initiated by someone committed to local development trusts. At the same time, the national rural community council movement was promoting village appraisals and encouraging communities to identify ways of improving village environments. A local CoE priest, who is still one of our trustees, was active in this movement nationally and keen to see something similar in Glendale. Having been in the area for many years, he was well-networked to like-minded people. The ‘Village Appraisal’ work went ahead energetically. It confirmed the depressing impact on local life and services resulting from the steady loss of people from the farming sector and focused on a key project which it was hoped would make a difference. The idea was to provide a community hub for Glendale by converting the old GRDC offices in Wooler (the old workhouse) into a community centre, with some space for small businesses as well.
This required acquiring the property and finding funds to redevelop it. To obtain funding, the activist group was advised that they needed to become a formal organisation, and in 1996, GGT was established. There were 14 trustees, (only one a woman!), including a local farmer, the owner of a caravan park, the local youth hostel manager, councillors from Berwick District and local parishes, and a County Council official. It is often said that in those early days, local authority representatives acted in a rather patronising manner to this emerging initiative, but they were important especially in facilitating the transfer of assets to the Trust. The chair of the Trust was the head of a local estate agency, which serviced the large estates. He was respected both for his community development orientation and his networks among the large and moneyed landowners.
The story of this first project still fills those involved with amazement and pride that they succeeded. The old GRDC offices and a few other properties were transferred to the Trust by Berwick Borough Council, and funding for conversion of the building came from EU LEADER funds, matched with proceeds from the sale of some of these other properties and small contributions from several local trust funds. Some trustees were well-networked to people involved in these funds, but it was still a difficult and uncertain job getting the funding package together. The Cheviot Centre was opened in 2001, with the hope that it would become a real community hub, for activities, services and businesses. An aim was to incorporate the small County Council library in the project, but at that time, NCC could not contemplate such a move. The Trust used the remaining local authority empty sites and properties to provide two housing units at an affordable rent and premises for a successful Youth Drop-In Centre.
As the Cheviot Centre renovation got underway, trustees began to get more confident. Concerned about the increasing empty shops in Wooler High Street, and using a substantial loan from a local private benefactor, the Trust bought a swathe of land and property on and behind the High Street from the Co-Operative Society, which had merged two small supermarkets, and left this area vacant. The properties on the High Street were refurbished for commercial purposes (now a lively café and a specialist women’s sportsware shop which is actually an internet business), as well as two more housing units. Behind, after a lot of complicated negotiation about access and funding, a social housing project was built by Home Housing, which enabled the private loan to be paid off. By the early 2000s, the Trust was expanding into a much more substantial community development role than originally envisaged. Slowly, people in Wooler and in Glendale began to use it as a community space. Trustees in the mid-2000s, and the very small permanent staff, began to focus on other challenges. These included improving the High Street, for which the national programme of Market Town Renewal funding was attracted; encouraging young people into employment – again with public funds; and acquiring the local Youth Hostel which the YHA wanted to close as it was too expensive to upgrade. The Youth Hostel is now a successful social enterprise in its own right. Some Trustees also explored various ‘green’ initiatives.
The result by 2008, when hard times hit economically and in terms of public/NGO funding, was that the Trust had considerable assets of its own, but was also engaged in a range of activities which depended on public funding. During the next five years, careful attention was given to governance and management, downsizing staffing to a minimum, and reducing the range of development activities and initiatives to what gets referred to as our ‘core business’ – although there is always a tension between what we feel in community development terms we should try to do, and what we have the resources of staff, volunteer time and funding to do. But that core business has grown. The greatest success in this period has been persuading the County to move the small Library into the Cheviot Centre (opening in November 2011). Staff are shared between the library function, the Tourist Information Centre and the Trust, so that all facilities are open most of the day 6 days a week, rather than for a few hours on three days. Finally, the community hub idea has come to fruition. It is the place where people come for information about all kinds of things – a first port of call. The Cheviot Centre now houses the CAB, a Credit Union, an advice service for work seekers, a weekly RVS day for older people, along with a range of community activities. It accomodates several small businesses and we are currently expanding to provide better community and business space, the latter as part of the English government’s Rural Growth Fund (channelled through the County Council).