The Melbreak Communities has now published its first Community Action Plan. This is the result of two years’ hard work by the Steering Group and a consultation process which involved people of all ages from throughout the Valley. We are grateful to everyone who has contributed so far and welcome your comments, via the Message Board on this website or sent to a member of the Steering Group (whose contact details are included in the plan). You can read the plan here.
Since the Questionnaire Survey was completed (see below), emergencies and how communities deal with them has been very much in the news. Of course, situations and individual circumstances vary enormously. The parishes of The Melbreak Communities are now working together to develop an Emergency Plan for the Valley.
In March 2011 we hosted an open meeting to talk about:
• What people in this Valley (and other parts of the county) learned from their experiences of extreme events in the locality, such as flooding in November 2009
• How we might cope in the event of an emergency situation
• How we could pool our knowledge, skills and resources as a community to minimise the impact of such an event.
Following the open meeting, volunteers have come forward to form a Community Emergency Response Team, (CERT) and help draft an Emergency Plan with useful information about individual localities within the Valley. Our plan can also draw on the Ten Step Emergency Plan and related resources which has been made available to us by Action with Communities in Cumbria (ACT), see here. The Emergency Plan will be included within the ‘Safety & Security’ section of our evolving Community Action Plan for the Valley. The team has now begun work on an information database which can help valley residents to be alerted and informed in the event of an emergency. See the letter here if you would like your details to be included in the database. Here’s a link if you want to send your details by email.
An Action Plan for the four parishes of Buttermere, Loweswater, Blindbothel and Lorton.
Buttermere, Loweswater, Blindbothel and Lorton are getting together to produce a Community Action Plan, which reflects the concerns and aspirations of local people. We’ve been finding out about the things that really matter to people in the Valley – by inviting members of local clubs, societies and organisations to a social evening and open meetings and involving Yr 6 pupils at Lorton School in a ‘Summer Term Project’, in which they talked to a range of people about what makes life in the Valley ‘tick’ and their hopes for its future. A number of issues and priorities have emerged, in particular:
• How can we best help each other during extreme weather conditions?
• The availability of a range of social activities in the Valley, catering for all age groups
• The provision of local services – shopping, banks, Post Office etc
• Looking after our surroundings for everyone’s benefit
Summary of Questionnaire Responses
1. Safety, Security and Independent Living
A majority of responses were in favour of neighbourhood watch schemes, in addition to the one which already exists in Loweswater. This will require the services of conscientious coordinators and will be very difficult to operate in the more remote areas of the valley. Existing unofficial schemes already operate within neighbourhood groupings by means of a watchful eye being kept when people are away etc.
Over fifty per cent of respondents favoured a local scheme for alerting help or the provision of a “Good Neighbour” scheme. However, many people already have helpful neighbours or their own local contact numbers or support systems in the event of an emergency. Good neighbourliness seems to be working well!
Any official scheme will again require volunteers to coordinate and man the service and it may be more practical to simply ensure that everyone has support and one or more contacts they can turn to in emergencies. In addition a list of contact numbers could be made available for use in the event that normal help is not available.
There is a clear willingness to provide support for people in need throughout the valley and this should be harnessed as necessary to ensure that no one is vulnerable. The village shop and visiting Post Office provide essential services to the community and their continued existence is very important. The Melbreak Communities website is being very well received and in addition to the ‘Link’ magazine provides an excellent medium for keeping people informed of activities and services available in the Valley. A ‘Welcome’ booklet supplied by St Cuthbert’s Church PCC to all newcomers also provides comprehensive details of local services, groups and organisations etc.
The area has a mixed stock of housing. At the time of the 2001 Population Census there were 404 dwellings in the four parishes of Lorton, Loweswater, Buttermere and Blindbothel. Of these, residents lived in 78 per cent, 6 per cent were vacant and 16 per cent (63 dwellings) were identified as being a second home or holiday accommodation. Blindbothel had a lower rate of second home ownership at 8 per cent. Of the 315 resident households, 76 per cent were owner occupied, 21 percent privately rented and 3 per cent (seven dwellings in Lorton, three in Loweswater) rented from the council or a housing association.
A housing needs survey was conducted for Lorton, Loweswater and Buttermere in 2006 by Allerdale Borough Council. Reporting of the results was complicated by discrepancies between different publications but the version supported by Allerdale Council identified a need for 9 dwellings: four 2-bed houses; three 3-bed houses; one 4-bed house; and one 2-bed bungalow.
36 respondents (72%) said they support the provision of more affordable housing and 14 said they did not. Provision of housing is a contentious topic, which generates strong pro and anti feelings in the community. Comments received in the survey include views such as:
• “We need to bear in mind the policy of the National Park plan”
• “Only if it is genuinely for local people who are working in the Valley, not for people who are not going to contribute anything to the area”
• “Without affordable housing, the Valley is doomed to be a costly, mono-aged, ante room to the cemetery, burial ground or the next flight to Zurich!”
• “A housing estate, whatever size, would be a blot on the landscape. It would be better to build houses around towns and larger villages”
• “The Valley is full of properties not in full-time use. Why provide more?”
• “Yes – we should limit the amount according to need and use existing redundant buildings”
• “Yes – but only a small amount”
• “In the Valley – no. Locally – yes”
• “We believe planning permission has already been given for affordable housing in Lorton. This provision, we feel, is generous”
• “Only if sustainable and not generating more car journeys to and from work”
• “Only if appropriately located and in keeping in terms of scale and character”
• “Yes, absolutely!”
Clearly any schemes need to deal with concerns about second-home ownership and be sensitive to visual impact and location. As a point of information, planning permission has been given in 2009 for seven housing units in Low Lorton which implies that identified need would nearly be met if these are built.
Access to adequate transport is an important issue in a rural community with many people living in isolated settings. Private car or van is the primary means of transport. At the time of the 2001 Population Census, 83 percent of all households owned one or two cars or vans and a further 12 per cent owned three or more.
Ten households (six in Lorton and four in Loweswater) had no car. Of these, eight were pensioners, meaning more than 10 per cent of all elderly households were without their own vehicle. 12 per cent considered that they did not have adequate personal transport.
Two bus routes serve the valley. The ‘Honister Rambler’ has four services a day in each direction, from Keswick to Buttermere, on to Lorton, and back to Keswick via Whinlatter Pass, between the end of March and end of October. A ‘Dial-a-Ride’ bus service operates between Cockermouth and Buttermere via Lorton with up to 3 daily trips in each direction. The service has to be booked prior to 10.00 am each day.
Respondents to our survey would like to see the Honister Rambler operate a year-round service and for the Dial-a-Ride service to be extended in scope. Some other ideas include using any spare capacity on the school bus, operating a car sharing scheme or even having a community minibus.
Access to transport is not the only issue. Villagers remain concerned about vehicle speeds in the valley, especially through Low Lorton. And the impact of cyclists can be a problem as the C2C passes through the Valley and attracts large numbers of riders, as well as one-off cycling events such as the Fred Whitton Challenge. Suggestions have been made to encourage groups to follow alternative routes and spread their impact. For example, while Lorton Low bridge was closed because of November 2009 flooding, the C2C was routed down the main valley road and Hope Beck road, easing pressure on Thackthwaite. Another route could be clockwise around Fellbarrow from Loweswater to Low Lorton via Mosser.
4. Recreation & Social Activities
A lot of comments & ideas were generated under this heading. Some common themes were raised across a number of the sections of the community e.g. increased use of the village halls, increased use of the school’s facilities & the availability of public transport into Cockermouth to make use of its amenities. Other suggestions were specific to one section of the community, e.g. nursery/childminding facilities, school holiday activities for children and a lunch club.
In order to determine the level of demand for these suggestions representatives from each group would be needed (co–opted to Melbreak Communities?) to identify more closely the level of support for the specific idea, & work with the appropriate organisation to “test run” it, or lobby for the service if considered feasible.
Overall it is evident that the older section of our community is generally well served. However the younger generation has far fewer activities to engage them (& a greater need for public transport).
It is also evident that the major proportion of suggestions involve our community buildings – highlighting their value & potential to contributing to the development of community life.
5. Services in the Valley
There are varied services available in the Melbreak Communities area. The one shop serves the community although comments from the survey suggested residents from the Mockerkin end of Loweswater and Mockerkin itself found it more convenient to shop in Cockermouth. Suggestions from the survey were that more could be made of the shop. For example, opening up the old post office area to display more goods, sell locally grown produce when available, and perhaps a notice for interested parties to offer stand in help when the owner is away.
There is a travelling post office which operates from the Yew Tree Hall once a week. One comment from the survey was “did not know about it”, so more publicity would seem to be needed. There is a travelling bank which stops at Lorton although little used, and Loweswater and Buttermere. To encourage more use, a possibility could be the operation of cash facility for any bank user. We are also fortunate to have the services of a mobile library which operates from Loweswater, Buttermere and two locations in Lorton. More publicity about this service may be needed.
Although public transport has been dealt with already, comments from the survey suggested more frequent visits and the ability to stop on demand would be helpful for residents and visitors. There is a taxi service operating in Lorton. Four public houses serve locals and visitors and there are various job opportunities for local people in this service industry. The local school at Lorton provides facilities for toddler groups and a thriving After School Club, as well as a monthly lunch for all residents within the community. A particular suggestion from the survey was the service of a local doctor.
6. The Environment
Our survey asked two questions related to the environment:
• Would you support a community-wide survey of the green energy and energy efficiency potential in the valley?
• Do we need more recycling facilities/collection in the valley?
Both questions received strong positive support at 82% and 64% respectively, which indicates a high degree of interest in environmental issues. In addition, several of the comments provided in the survey raise environment-related issues such as new footpath development, better waste collection and maintenance of walls, stiles and suchlike.
Environmental issues are already a key topic at the Lorton School, which recently won the silver-level ‘Eco School’ award. They are hoping to develop a butterfly-friendly garden and are also looking into the possibility of solar power generation.
There is a long-running initiative, The ‘Loweswater Care Project’, to tackle toxic blue-green algal blooms in Loweswater through a community-based approach. The project is at the end of a cycle of funding and support and the local community is examining ways of continuing the work.
The next step will be for an environmental survey to be developed and administered. The community can draw ideas and lessons from other initiatives in the area. For example, a group at Ovingham, Northumberland have set up ‘Green Ovingham’ with interests that include cutting energy costs and reducing carbon emissions, promoting better waste recycling and reuse, improving public transport and encouraging its wider use, promoting local food and conserving the local environment.
It now seems sensible to take stock of existing initiatives and make contact with like-minded groups and learn from their experience.