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More than £1.2 million has been awarded to voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations in the North East to fund projects that support young people in the region and that contribute to a green economic recovery.

The funding has been awarded by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), from its Local Growth Fund VCSE Capital Grant programme, which aims to help communities across the North East recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Projects awarded funding range from the regeneration of a community garden in Meadow Well, North Tyneside; the creation of a ‘social kitchen’ in Hendon, Sunderland; and the development of a new learning facility and 20 hectares of improved green space for public use in Newcastle.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP, said: “The VCSE sector does vital work, not only in supporting communities but it also makes a valuable contribution to creating a stronger, greener economy.

“We recognise the central role that voluntary, community and social enterprise-led projects have to play as we work together as a region to build a stronger post-pandemic North East, and this new funding will help to bring forward projects that will benefit communities across our region.”

One of the organisations to receive support is Meadow Well Connected, which will receive £54,612 towards the regeneration of a community garden which will act as a hub for the local community, with opportunities for young people to undertake training in landscaping, biodiversity and horticulture.

Mandi Cresswell, Chief Officer of Meadow Well Connected, said: “The North East LEP funding will give a massive boost to our regeneration plans for our five-acre community garden and enable us to support local young people to gain skills and experience of working outside. It will create more biodiversity locally and create shared spaces for local people to enjoy.

“Our outdoor spaces have proved vital during the COVID-19 restrictions, providing opportunities to meet safely and connect with nature. We can’t wait to start this transformative work which will make a real difference to people of all ages.”

In Sunderland, Back on the Map – a charity which works to improve quality of life for residents of Hendon – has been granted £100,472 to turn an empty shop into a community café and training space which will work to counter food poverty as well as offering training placements for young people with learning disabilities.

Julie Gray, Chair of Back on the Map, said: “We are delighted to receive this award from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. The funds will enable us to develop a sustainable local enterprise which will provide training and employment opportunities as well as improving local retail premises and simulating the local economy in an economically deprived area.”

The Natural History Society of Northumbria, based in Newcastle, has also been awarded funding, receiving £91,500 towards its Gosforth Environmental Field Station. The project will provide a learning space for schools, colleges and universities, plus 20 hectares of woodland for public use, and builds on the existing Gosforth Nature Reserve which has been managed by volunteers since 1929.

Clare Freeman, Director, Natural History Society of Northumbria, said: “Young people will be delighted with opportunities to experience nature and develop new skills at Gosforth Nature Reserve. Skilled, enthusiastic volunteers are really excited to develop our education programme to offer a much wider range of activities, proactively inviting new community groups to experience this regional natural gem. We would love to hear from community groups, school groups, colleges and universities who may like to visit the new field station and nature reserve.”

In Gateshead, Chopwell Regeneration CIO have been awarded a grant of £100,000 to convert a former bank into an enterprise and welfare centre in the heart of Chopwell in rural west Gateshead. The centre will include a food bank, community cafe, employability skills training, and space and support for small businesses.

Jodie Barwick-Bell, Chair of Chopwell Regeneration CIO, said: “We are over the moon to receive this grant which will enable us to provide vital services from this autumn. The impact of COVID on our already deprived community is severe and the need is significant. As a result of the grant we will now be able to provide much-needed support to our community, including in particular education and training opportunities. Thank you so much to the North East LEP.”

Dean Titterton, Chief Executive Officer of YMCA North Tyneside, which was awarded funding for a youth skills academy, said: “YMCA North Tyneside are delighted to be awarded this grant from the North East LEP for work that will prove to be invaluable to young people and the community that we serve. As a thriving local charity that looks to create healthy, happy and connected communities we know that the money granted will enable us to equip individuals with the appropriate training, skills, advice and guidance for now and the future.”

A further 9 organisations also received funding to support a range of VCSE projects across the region.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP added: “All the projects which have been brought forward for funding have real potential to contribute towards a greener, better future for the North East and to engage young people with opportunities to develop their environmental awareness and skills.

“The past year has hit our region hard but I’m confident that we can collaborate and move towards recovery together, and local projects like this can play a central role.”

(Image: Madow Well Connected).

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Colin Bell