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Opening up Offerton: Kindling community spirit on a Stockport estate

By Joshua Powling

Drug dealing, loan sharks and anti-social behaviour are three of the problems plaguing Offerton in Stockport, but the area’s prospects are looking up.

Everyone seems to be worried about the lack of cohesion in local communities across the country, with no-one quite sure how to fix this problem.

The cynical might point to the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson’s trip to Manchester in 2009 as an example of good PR triumphing over any tangible changes, where she spent 10 days filming an ITV documentary in Wythenshawe.

Some of them did not take kindly to being spoken to by a “toffee nosed git”, as the Duchess herself put it.

But this is where the Coalition Government’s, or rather Prime Minister David Cameron’s secret weapon comes in.

Baroness Helen Newlove, the Conservative Champion for Active Safer Communities, introduced her report ‘Our Vision for Safe and Active Communities’ last month, mentioning Offerton as a case study.

“I am especially impressed with the work I have seen in Stockport. I know there is a big appetite out there for volunteering and making a real difference,” she said.

“The difference in the quality of life between an active community, like Offerton, that looks after each other especially the most vulnerable and one that closes its front door and says it’s someone else’s problem, is enormous.”

Her husband Garry Newlove was murdered by youths after he tried to stop them vandalising the car outside their family home in Warrington in 2007.

Meanwhile the wheels of change are turning in the area thanks to the co-ordinated work of Stockport Council, police and residents.

Councillor Wendy Meikle, re-elected last month to the Offerton ward for Stockport Council as a Liberal Democrat, says that the work they have put in is starting to be felt in the community.

“I’m delighted we’ve got this community feeling going,” she said.

“They are all respectful people, but they are isolated on the Offerton estate, as you can see from the consultation where we got 300 responses out of 3000 people.”

She has worked alongside Inspector Brendan O’Brien, head of Stockport East Neighbourhood Policing Team, and Carolyn Anderson, Neighbourhood Renewal Coordinator for Stockport Council.

They put more neighbourhood support officers on the estate, secured funding for a Multiple Use Gaming Area, and improved the quality of the public spaces in the area.

But it was the participatory budget event, where residents could bid for money to make specific community projects a reality, which really grabbed the headlines.

The Safer Stockport Partnership held two such ‘You Say, We Pay’ events in the last nine months, with the largest grant going to the running of a Domestic Abuse Conference last August.

“The conference was a great event as we have to do as much as we can to show that domestic abuse is not acceptable,” Councillor Meikle said.

The next two challenges are getting a community centre opened in the heart of Offerton and to secure funding for improvements to the shopping precinct.

Councillor Meikle strives to get Offerton Social Club reopened as a community centre, while the Dialstone Centre is due to undergo renovation.

“What’s needed is a local venue for local people. People can take control of their own environment,” she added.

Improving the shopping centre may prove to be more of a challenge. 

Councillor Meikle explained: “The Offerton Precinct needs to be rebuilt as it is dire. We need to bulldoze the whole site and rebuild it, as we’ve had no investment in the 30 years since it was built, and now it only has one shop.”

Hayley Bell, who helped set up Offerton Mum’s Group, sounded cautiously optimistic about the future of her area.

“The place still needs a lot of attention but through the energy of some of the locals and staff from some of the services, things do feel a lot better,” she said.

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