Determined to keep community centres open

Since 2010 more than 500 community centres have closed nationally. In Peterborough that figure is zero.

It’s understandable when you consider the financial strain many councils, including our own, are under following unprecedented cuts in government funding and rising demand for services.

It would have been very easy for us to follow suit, however, we’ve taken a different approach to be able to protect these important community hubs and keep them open.

Our 48 council-owned community facilities have been successfully run by voluntary community organisations for many years.

We are now going one step further and transferring full responsibility for management and running of community centres from the council to community organisations under a Community Asset Transfer Scheme.

This will save the council considerable yearly running costs, at a time when every penny is needed to cope with rising demands in adults and children’s social care and to keep open vital services such as libraries, parks and open spaces.

The alternative would be to close them, something we have strived to avoid.

We faced a similar situation with our library service, where we needed to make a saving. We managed to keep every library in the city open, for longer hours, by introducing self serve technology.

We’re currently on the look-out for new management organisations for two of our community centres, Copeland in Bretton and Thistle Drive, in Stanground, as the current groups are no longer able to continue.

Copeland Community Centre back garden with swings
Copeland Community Centre

Each of the centres would need to be operated as a social enterprise by a constituted group who would be responsible for overall management and generating a profit sufficient to cover day to day running costs and on-going repairs and maintenance.

Anyone interested in taking over the running of Copeland or Thistle Drive, can find out more on the Bid for a community centre page on the council website.

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Sharing city’s secrets of success

Our city centre is a real source of pride for me. The work we’ve done in recent years has made it spacious and welcoming and I believe it’s never looked better.

The extensive transformation of Bridge Street through to Cathedral Square and Long Causeway has attracted significant new investment into the heart of our city.

We now have a vast array of new and attractive places for everyone to shop in, eat, have fun or just simply relax in.

And in case you’re thinking, ‘well, John would say that’ – it’s not just me who shares this view.

Last week, we received a phone call out of the blue from BBC Radio Kent, after its producer had visited Peterborough. He was thoroughly impressed with our city centre and described it as having a cafe culture look and feel, reminiscent of a European city.

cathedral square

He wanted us to talk on the radio station to share the secrets of our success, in the hope that these could be mirrored in Chatham.

Cabinet member councillor Marco Cereste spoke to the station on Monday about the work that we and our partners have done over the past decade to help revitalise the area.

He pointed out that ten years ago, the city centre would virtually shut down at 5pm and we have worked hard to inject some life into it after hours to attract more residents, visitors and businesses.

Not ones to be complacent, we’re currently in the process of setting up a Business Improvement District, which will help support and promote city centre shops.

All UK high streets have had a tough few years following the rise of online shopping, so please keep using them. For me, nothing beats browsing for an item in real life. (more…)

Starting to take back control

This week we celebrated a momentous occasion and welcomed the first staff to our new local authority trading company.

Just before Christmas we made the landmark decision to set up our own company, Peterborough Limited, which I like to call the ‘people’s company’. It will deliver services for residents that were previously provided by Amey.

Bringing services such as waste and recycling and building cleaning back in house gives us greater control over how these services are provided and allows us to better monitor them so that they can constantly improve. It also allows us to provide better value for money.

We’re not bringing all of the services and 449 employees back from Amey into Peterborough Limited in one go, we are doing it in a phased approach to ensure that the best quality of service is maintained.

Building cleaning moved across on Monday and I was delighted to meet some of the staff at the Town Hall. They were all really excited about moving back to the council and the plans that we have to develop these services.

John meets Latco

Waste and recycling collections and passenger transport will transfer on 1 April, followed by building maintenance, street cleansing and grounds maintenance on 4 May.

For residents there will be little obvious change, but we will be striving to ensure that all the services we provide are of the highest quality so that our city is clean and well maintained.

We will also be looking to commercialise the services that we provide, to add to the growing number of ways we are generating income to support our budget. I’ll be able to tell you more about that in the coming months. (more…)

Help to end loneliness epidemic

Have you ever experienced loneliness? I’m not talking about occasionally on an afternoon, but weeks, or even months and years of craving human contact.

There’s been much in the media recently about a national ‘loneliness epidemic,’ but one article in the Daily Telegraph in particular caught my attention last month, in which the new Loneliness Minister, MP Mims Davies says communities have a moral duty to look after the lonely and vulnerable.

As a council, there’s things we can do to help this. Indeed, I helped to set up one of the first friendship clubs in Peterborough 16 years ago in my ward of Glinton and allocated £10,000 to replicate this across the city.

There are now 11 friendship clubs in Peterborough which meet every week to offer company, home-cooked meals, information and advice on everything from setting up a Facebook account to Skyping friends and family.

But there’s also a lot that you as an individual can do too – and for those of you who haven’t set a New Year’s resolution yet, this is a good one!

Studies by the Mental Health Foundation show that volunteering and doing good for others can actually be beneficial to our own wellbeing.

There are over 197,000 people living in Peterborough. If just 0.1% of us decided to volunteer a couple of hours a week to help the lonely and vulnerable in our city, that would be nearly 200 extra volunteers across Peterborough.

The Age UK friendship clubs are looking for volunteers right now. Contact them on 01733 352212 or email friendshipclubs@ageukcap.org.uk.

Ladies at Friendship Club

If you haven’t got time to make a commitment as a volunteer, then just take five minutes to knock on the door of an elderly neighbour, family member or friend. Check they are okay and to ask if there is anything they need. Human contact means so much to those who are lonely at this time of year.

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No simple answer to homelessness

No one should have to sleep rough in our city. There are always enough beds in our shelters and hostels to make sure this is the case.

However, reducing the number of rough sleepers is not as simple as just providing beds.

Each rough sleeper on our streets has their own individual story to tell. And as such, needs individual support to help them into accommodation.

Did you know that the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 47? That’s a good 30 years less than the national average and this is why our ultimate aim is to support those sleeping rough in getting off the streets for good.

Back in the autumn we teamed up with partners to help to launch the Safer Off The Streets campaign, aimed at ending rough sleepers in the city once and for all.

The scheme features a number of initiatives which are already making a positive difference.

These include a new contactless card window outside the Argo Lounge in St Peter’s Arcade, allowing people to make instant secure £3 donations.

In just over two months, £2,345 has been pledged to the partnership and many rough sleepers have been supported in getting off the streets for good, which is a fantastic start!

If you haven’t already made a donation, please visit the contactless card window at Argo Lounge or visit the donations page on the Safer Off The Streets website.

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Sizable funding received from Central Government

This week we received three sizeable pots of money from Central Government.

Our bid for £1million to become an Integrated Pilot Area was successful. It will boost opportunities for young people, improve opportunities for work and continue to develop community cohesion.

We’ve also received £1.5million of funding to improve our roads after last year’s bashing from the ‘Beast from the East’.

Lastly, we’ve teamed up with eight local authorities and AgilityEco to secure £6.5million to install central heating for the first time in up to 1,500 homes, including those at St Michael’s Gate.

Not bad for just a week, let’s hope next week is the same!

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A credit to our wonderful city

Armistice 100

There is an old saying that every great city is only that way because of the people who live there.

Well, Sunday’s Civic Remembrance service in the city centre demonstrated just how great the people of Peterborough truly are.

I’ve not seen Bridge Street so packed for a long time – there must have been thousands of people who came along to pay their respects.

This year’s event was especially poignant as not only did Remembrance Day fall on a Sunday but the occasion also marked 100 years since the signing of the Armistice which led to the end of the First World War.

Remembrance Parade

We were anticipating big crowds and put up a giant TV screen in Cathedral Square so that people could watch the military parade along Bridge Street, wreath laying by the war memorial and two minute silence which was impeccably observed.

We also streamed live footage from the event on the council’s Facebook page and I’m informed that many people watched this online.

So I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who came along – you are a credit to our wonderful city.

I know that the servicemen and women who attended were deeply touched by the huge turnout and saw firsthand that the people of Peterborough will never forget those who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today.

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Peterborough in the papers

Fakes send out serious message

Peterborough has hit the national headlines not once, but twice this week. The Sun and The Mirror picked up on a story which you might have seen in this paper last week about 1,000 imported teddy bears which were destroyed by our Trading Standards team.

While they looked nice and cuddly, the eyes and noses on the teddy bears were badly designed and could easily fall off, creating a choking hazard for babies and young children.

There is serious message here – please be careful when buying toys in the run up to Christmas.Fake Teddy Bears

On Monday, our city made the national headlines again, this time for taking part in a postal and proxy voting pilot for the local elections in May 2019.

You might remember, Peterborough was part of a similar pilot last year which lead to a 47 per cent reduction in postal vote rejection rates.

It will focus on the importance of individuals completing their postal vote themselves and requiring anybody who has been appointed as a proxy to vote on someone else’s behalf to supply photographic ID at the polling station.

We take the issue of election fraud extremely seriously and are committed to ensuring that all elections are fair processes.

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New ways of helping the homeless

This spring we announced we would be offering private landlords and empty home owners hassle-free rent by housing homeless families.

I’m pleased to say the scheme has been a massive success, with over 30 families now housed in this way across the city.

By acting as a guarantor for home owners, the council has been able to quickly increase its temporary accommodation stock and reduce costs spent on B&B style accommodation.

Home owners get the security that comes from having the council acting as a letting agency and the knowledge they are helping Peterborough families who have fallen on hard times.

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Looking to tidy up fly-tipping law

Regular readers of this blog will know that fly-tipping is a big bugbear of mine, it really gets my goat.

Fly-tipping blights our communities, impacts on the environment and is completely unnecessary. Waste can be easily collected or disposed of in our city at our household recycling centre. There is no need for it.

One aspect of the law which is causing problems when it comes to fly-tipping is the fact that if someone fly-tips on private land, it is currently the land owner’s responsibility to clear up the mess left behind.

Flytipping in the street

This has always seemed unfair – obviously it’s not their fault and they may not have the means or the time to remove it themselves.

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