Alston Moor Partnership is all about improving the quality of life on Alston Moor and recently has been making some really exciting developments marketing Alston Moor as a visitor attraction as well as introducing electric bikes and being awarded first round approval for a £1M Townscape Heritage Scheme, which hopes to transform Alston's town centre.

Working together to make Alston Moor an even more wonderful place than it already is

Alston Moor Partnership is a not for profit organisation which is classed as a company limited by guarantee and acts as an umbrella group for a number of local organisations and individuals who are working together to make "Alston Moor an even more wonderful place than it already is".

Showing off the Community PlanThe partnership was formed over 10 years ago after Alston Moor was awarded £200,000 of European funding because it is designated as one of the most deprived areas in Cumbria. The money was to be given out to local groups and projects which benefitted the community, but needed a local organisation to deliver the money, so Alston Moor Partnership was established to take on this role. Part of the money was put into a 'Community Chest' fund to benefit smaller projects. Around the same time a Community Plan was created for Alston Moor which was produced to ensure that Alston Moor can remain a thriving community for decades to come.

The steering group who oversaw the production of the community plan merged with the partnership and they took over responsibility for delivering the community plan and soon after got some funding which allowed the partnership to develop projects to start delivering the plan.

Exciting Developments for the Partnership

However after a few years this funding ran out and things were a bit quiet for the partnership until the community plan was updated in 2011 which enabled them to get funding from Eden District Council to employ a new project officer Claire Lumley, which led to some exciting developments for the partnership. These developments included creating more of a presence on Alston Moor to try and encourage greater community engagement. One of the ways the partnership did this was by taking on a shop premises at the top of Front Street and by holding 'Big Ideas' workshops throughout the community and creating a regular project newsletter.

New Visit Alston Moor leafletThe other main part of the project was to create a marketing strategy for Alston Moor which included holding several marketing meetings for local business, which proved a great success. A Visit Alston Moor leaflet was also created alongside a Visit Alston Moor website created in partnership with Cybermoor.

Special Visit Alston Moor Folders have also been created to give to local accommodation providers, these are full of leaflets of all the things Alston Moor has to offer in the way of visitor attractions to try and keep those staying in Alston in the area rather than driving off to other areas.

Another way the partnership has highlighted what Alston Moor has to offer is through gaining a Walkers are Welcome status for Alston Moor.

Claire Lumley said: "We couldn't be better placed for this award on Alston Moor with our diverse network of Public Rights of Way stretching from the moor tops to the leafy valley bottoms. The Pennine Way national trail brings in 2000 people a year of the most dedicated walkers, but here there are conditions to suit everyone."

The current community plan updated in 2011 has 12 key areas, economy, health service, education and lifelong learning, oppurtunities for young people, affordable homes, local facilities, communications, environment, agriculture/ farming, transport, fuel and elderly and disabled people.

Sonia Kempsey has been the chair of Alston Moor Partnership since 2012 first becoming involved when updating the community plan began in 2010. Sonia feels passionately about making a real difference on Alston Moor through the partnership.

"Our main purpose is to try and improve the quality of life on Alston Moor and to do that through the means of implementing the community plan."

Another significant project the partnership is currently involved in is the Sustain Eden Project which allows them to employ Roe Baker as Sustainability Officer for Alston Moor. Roe's project focuses on implementing a community bus service which will serve both visitors and residents. To progress and assess the feasibility of an Alston Moor Hydro Electric scheme and to set up an electric cycle hire scheme for the area which you can find out all about in this short audio piece.

If you fancy a go on one of the electric bikes they are currently available for hire in Nenthead at the North Pennine Cycle Shop,who will be responsible for maintaining the electric bikes across Alston Moor's three hire hubs - Alston and Garrigill bike hubs will be up and running soon.

£1M Townscape Heritage Scheme which could transform Alston Town Centre

One of the most recent projects the Partnership has been working on is a £1M Townscape Heritage Scheme. After a long bidding process the partnership has been awarded first round approval by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The 5 year project will aim to transform Alston Town Centre by improving its historic buildings and the market square, for instance by having a raised pedestrian crossing across the cobbled street. Local property owners will also be able to apply to a grant fund in order to improve their properties within a specific target area right in the heart of Alston's high street.

There will also be an activity programme to help local people learn more about their heritage and to enable property owners and contractors to acquire traditional building skills that can be used on historic buildings.

The Heritage Lottery Fund only gives these types of grants to areas which are considered 'heritage at risk', which Alston is because of its empty shops, fragile economy and derelict buildings around the centre of town. The purpose of the townscape project is not just to improve the buildings from a conservation point of view but also to act as a regeneration scheme to help improve the local economy.

Sonia said: "It is probably mainly going to be commercial properties which will be included in the town scape scheme because the whole idea is to try and regenerate the town centre to try and get more shops up and running and if they look well-kept and smart, hopefully it will give people more confidence in investing in the town and get more people opening shops and in turn get more people visiting the town."

A Challenging Business

Sonia Kempsey Chair of Alston Moor PartnershipGetting all these varied projects up and running does not come without its challenges as Sonia explains: "I suppose one of the main challenges is that we are all volunteers and it's trying to find people with enough time as everyone who is involved has either got their own business or are working in at least one other place."

"Mainly it's about getting enough people involved and no matter how much you spread the word it's getting enough people to know about it and to realise it is something worth getting involved with because the more people who get involved the more things we could do."

Another one of the big challenges for Alston Moor Partnership is how reliant on grants they are as they currently have no way of generating their own income.

Sonia said: "You can't do anything really unless you have got funding for it and trying to find people who have enough time to do fundraising is not very easy either. I suppose it is the same for all voluntary groups really you talk to the Hub museum or Fairhill and they all need more volunteers we just need more people living here altogether really."

"That is another one of our long term aspirations, to get more people living and working here, so we have more people to use all the shops and services like the school and you know to help keep everything going a bit better."

Despite the challenges Sonia finds being involved in the partnership very worthwhile for the difference they are making to Alston Moor now and for the future.

"I think the most rewarding part is the fact we have managed to achieve a lot really and hopefully although it's early days what we have achieved over the last year will lead eventually to a more prosperous community."

Some Words of Advice ...

Sonia would offer the following advice to other communities hoping to do something similar where they live, "It's quite a good idea to go and see what other places have done and talking to people who are involved in these types of things already and that helps give you an idea. You have also got to have some really dedicated volunteers who are willing to put a lot of their spare time into things."

You can find out more about Alston Moor Partnership on their website

Next week we learn all about Cybermoor, Alston Moor's community owned co-operative who brought Alston Moor well and truly into the 21st century in 2002 by providing the community with access to the internet well ahead of other rural areas thanks to an innovative government scheme.