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Community Agents Project in Redcar & Cleveland receives national recognition

A GROUND-BREAKING project which has improved the quality of life for more than 1,000 elderly and vulnerable people in Redcar and Cleveland has received national recognition.

The Community Agents Project was established two years ago as a one-stop-shop to solve non-medical problems, helping people to continue living independently in their own homes.

The scheme, a partnership between Tees Valley Community Council as a delivery partner with South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Redcar and Cleveland Council as commissioners, has been praised as being of national significance by Ian Dodds of the Cabinet Office in Newcastle who says he will promote it in the North-east and nationally. A detailed evaluation by Teesside University, officially launched on Monday, September 21, reveals the success of the project - for every £1 of investment, £7.38 of social value has been created.

The innovative service, run by full-time Communty Agent Liz Toon and part-time Community Agents Jayne Anderton and Tracy Lean, is a single point of contact linking those who need support with community resources and other services. The Community Agents, who are based in Loftus but cover the whole of the borough, are at the end of the phone for referrals involving any elderly or vulnerable person in the area who is struggling to manage. Referrals come mainly from community health staff, social workers, GPs, James Cook University Hospital and council officers, as well as from voluntary groups and members of the public.

The Community Agents have a database of all the voluntary organisations in the area to help them find the right support - a volunteer driver, someone to do gardening and DIY or help to fill in official forms, or a group that runs a befriending service or lunch club.

Community Agent Liz Toon explained: “Sometimes it is simple situation with an easy solution. For other people with complex needs, it takes more time. These are people with non-medical needs who otherwise might fall through the gap.”

One of Liz’s clients is 87-year-old Kath of North Skelton whose family live out of the area and was finding life increasingly lonely since her husband died in 2006. She now has regular visits from a befriender through the charity Independent Age and has received help filling in benefit forms which has benefitted her financially.

Kath, who is determined to keep cheerful and positive, despite having difficulty getting around, said: “It really makes a difference to my day to have someone call in to see me for a chat. It is good to see a friendly face. And I am so grateful for the help I had filling in forms.”

Ian Dodds said: “I would like to congratulate Tees Valley Rural Community Council and its partners on the success of the Community Agents project. It is a good example of how an innovative approach can result in much needed support for the elderly and vulnerable being provided to help reduce the strain on health and social care budgets.

“I am delighted that this demonstration project has shown what can be achieved when the Health, Social Services and Voluntary sectors pull together and intend to promote the approach and outcomes both within the North-east and beyond. The Community Agents project shows that the region knows how to meet challenges head on and to come up with creative and positive solutions, and I hope that others can learn from the investment of time and effort which has gone into this project.”

Doff Pollard, TVRCC Chief Officer, added: Supporting people in their own homes is really important for their wellbeing particularly those isolated by living in outlying rural communities. TVRCC is delighted to be working with partners from the wider voluntary sector, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and to bring some joined up working which will support this."

The final report and a full summary can be downloaded from the TVRCC website. The links are:

  • Community Agents Summary Report September 2015
  • Community Agents Final Report September 2015
  • Rural expert Mark Shucksmith joins ACRE board

    Renowned rural expert Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE has joined the board of trustees at ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England). Mark is Director of the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal and Professor of Planning at Newcastle University, and was previously Professor of Land Economy and Director of the Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research at the University of Aberdeen.

    He joins nine other trustees from across the country to govern ACRE, the national body for England’s 38 rural community councils. Mark is an expert on social exclusion in rural areas, rural housing, rural development, agricultural change and rural policy. He is the author of several books on rural housing and on rural disadvantage and has coordinated numerous EU research projects.

    He was a board member of the Countryside Agency (2005-6), and the Commission for Rural Communities (2006-13), was a member of the Government’s Affordable Rural Housing Commission (2005-06), Chair of the Scottish Government’s Committee of Inquiry into Crofting (2007-08), expert adviser to the Scottish Parliament’s EFRA Committee, and adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on rural issues.

    He represents Europe on the Council of the International Rural Sociological Association and will be Chair of the Scientific Committee for the next European Congress of Rural Sociology in 2015. He was awarded the honour of OBE in 2009 for services to rural development and to crofting. He was elected to the Academy of Social Sciences in 2010.

    Mark said: “I was very pleased to be invited to join the board of ACRE, which has a long history of helping rural communities to help themselves. I have often worked with the charity and its network of rural community councils in the past and share their values and aspirations.

    “I hope to use my experience to enable me to contribute to their work across a broad range of rural issues – from enabling affordable housing to setting up social enterprises to save village shops and pubs.”

    ACRE Chair Sue Shaw said: “We are delighted that Mark has joined the ACRE board. “His depth of knowledge and experience fits exactly with our mission to speak up for rural communities on the national stage, ensuring that the Government takes into account the challenges faced by our communities when shaping rural policy. “I am sure Mark’s contribution will prove invaluable and we look forward to welcoming him to our ACRE conference in November, where he will be a key speaker on the rural economy.

    ACRE wins contract to manage £700,000 community loan fund

    Leading rural network ACRE has been reawarded the contract to manage a £700,000 Defra loan fund for rural community buildings. The Rural Community Buildings Loan Fund plays a crucial role in helping community groups renovate, refurbish and construct buildings such as village halls, church halls and community centres.

    It encourages communities to raise funds, knowing a loan could be available to help them meet their target and win funding from other sources. The average loan taken out by hall committees is around £15,000 – but larger loans are considered. Around 40 loans are live at any one time and ACRE makes around 10 to 14 new loans every year. The interest charged on the loan is returned to the Government, but capital is put back into the fund to support other community buildings. ACRE, the national voice for England’s network of 38 rural community councils (RCCs), has been managing the Fund for more than 25 years as part of its dedicated service for village halls and other community buildings

    Through a nationwide team of specialist advisers employed by its Network, ACRE supports the 80,000 volunteers behind the 10,000 village halls at the heart of England’s rural communities. Advice and guidance is available on a host of issues, such as licensing, employment, funding and health and safety. ACRE also speaks up for village halls, ensuring Government policymakers are aware of the challenges faced by volunteers who are often struggling with red-tape and the demands of managing a community building.

    ACRE’s Rural Community Buildings Officer Deborah Clarke said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the contract to manage the loan fund for another three years. “The fund is a real boon for communities because it allows work to be done immediately, bringing instant benefits. The process is simple and applicants are guided by their local RCC advisers who have in-depth knowledge of the challenges of managing a community building.

    “We have helped hundreds of communities who tell us that without the loan fund, the refurbishment of their village hall would never have happened. We’re also keen to hear from groups who want construct a new building, through the Community Right to Build powers or acquire an existing building for community use, through the Community Right to Bid powers.”

    Defra said: “The Rural Community Buildings Loan Fund plays an important role in supporting vital community buildings that sit at the heart of rural life. We would encourage communities to use the fund not only for the maintenance and improvement of current community buildings but also to help communities bring buildings into community use and ownership where there is a local need.”

    Details of how to apply for a loan can be found on the ACRE website below or contact Janice McCOlm on (01642) 213852,

  • ACRE Website
  • ACRE calls for key outcomes from Commons Green Deal inquiry

    Leading rural network ACRE has called for five key outcomes from a Commons inquiry into the delivery of the Government’s energy-saving initiatives for homes. The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee heard evidence from ACRE that the Green Deal and the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) have been hard to ‘sell’ to rural households.

    ECO supports the free installation of energy efficiency measures in low-income households and areas, and in properties that are harder to treat. It works alongside the Green Deal, which allows consumers to take out loans for energy efficiency improvements in their homes.

    Nick Chase, Director of Policy and Research at ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), spoke out after giving evidence based on a survey of ACRE’s Network of England’s 38 rural community councils to the Committee’s Green Deal Watching Brief inquiry.

    Mr Chase said: ”Green Deal has been very hard to sell to rural households. Our recent England-wide survey has suggested that the concept of the scheme is difficult for people to understand. People are concerned about the high cost of the loan, the uncertainty of how much pay-back in energy savings they will receive and the fact that the ‘debt’ of the loan stays with the property until repaid and this could affect the resale value of the house.

    “In addition, there is the issue of ‘rural pride’ with people in small communities not wanting to be identified as being in receipt of benefits in order to receive free energy-saving measures.

    “There is a very real issue of trust relating to energy companies and anything they are ‘selling’ – even if it is free. ACRE’s members work as ‘trusted intermediaries’ on a wide range of issues within rural communities. Using our Network is one of the best ways of ensuring you are engaging with the people who are hardest to reach.” ACRE is calling for five key outcomes from the Commons inquiry:

  • Greater effort should be made by energy companies to deliver considerably more measures into ‘rural obligation’ areas. Currently, 15pc of all measures must be carried out in high-deprivation rural areas.
  • Investment in established infrastructure organisations, such as ACRE, with tried and tested methods of engagement, to ensure no one is excluded from the offers.
  • Solid wall insulation must be increased considerably in rural obligation areas
  • Replacement boilers should be available for homes that are off the mains gas grid and rely on heating oil and LPG.
  • Energy companies need to look at’ whole household’ solutions - not cherry pick the easier to install measures.
  • Mr Chase added: “The new Green Deal Home Improvement Fund is an example of rural discrimination. Currently, you cannot get a replacement boiler for heating oil or LPG under the scheme – this excludes nearly 1.3m rural households who are off the mains gas grid. A new condensing boiler for these households is the most cost effective way of reducing energy bills by as much as 30 pc. “Solid wall insulation has hardly been undertaken under the scheme – latest figures show that of 578 measures installed into the target rural areas, only four were for solid wall insulation.

    “This reveals that energy companies are cherry picking the easiest measures to provide, such as loft insulation, and then moving on to the next house. Instead, they need to look at complete solutions for the household.”

    Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) - A Defra Initiative to provide loans to rural communities to develop renewable energy schemes

    The Government recognises the growing interest in developing local renewable energy projects, and that it can be challenging for communities to find private investors willing to support them through the early development stages necessary to obtain planning permission.

    The fund provides up to approximately £150,000 of funding for feasibility and pre-planning development work to help projects become investment ready.

    For more information on this initiative please visit the below link

  • Rural Community Energy Fund Application and Guidance (ACRE)
  • The Green Deal

    The Green Deal is a new way of obtaining finance that enables people to pay for energy-efficiency improvements through savings on their energy bills. It was launched in January 2013 and it will replace current policies such as the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) and the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP).

  • Green Deal Information Website
  • Stockton Welfare Rights Unit - Help with claiming PIP (Personal Independence Payment).

    Stockton Welfare Rights Unit has been funded to assist people who live in the Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council area to claim PIP (Personal Independence Payment) which is replacing DLA (Disability Living Allowance).

    For information contact Louise Lamont at Stockton Welfare Rights Unit. Tel:01642 526141 or Email:

    Road Closure, A67 at High Coniscliffe

    If your business is being affected by this road closure and diversions, The A67 is currently under Maintenance and repair could be closed for up to a year

    SOS (Save our Sector) Darlington - The ‘MIRUS Cloud Database'

    This will provide an improved means of collaboration in the Voluntary Sector by establishing an interactive database of contacts and services.The campaign is now live and you are invited to help us gather valuable information on the sector. By sharing your views and some basic data on what you are doing you can help us to:

    For information please contact Jane Cater or Nick White at eVOLution by calling 01325 266888 or e-mail: