LOVE Northumberland Awards celebrate the county's green champions

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The Duchess of Northumberland helped celebrate the very best in community and voluntary environmental work across the county at this year’s LOVE Northumberland Awards ceremony.

Community groups, organisations, schools and individuals were honoured awards across seven categories in what is now the event’s 14th year.

Representatives of all shortlisted entries attended the event at The Alnwick Garden, which was hosted by BBC Radio Newcastle presenter Anna Foster.

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Paul Jones, the council’s director of transport and environment, said: “The efforts of volunteers, local community groups, schools and individuals to improve their local environment is invaluable in our county and it’s been great to celebrate them through these awards.

The winners of this year's awards at The Alnwick Garden.The winners of this year's awards at The Alnwick Garden.
The winners of this year's awards at The Alnwick Garden.

“All the entries should be very proud of their work. They are fantastic examples of communities working together across our beautiful county – protecting, nurturing and improving our environment.”

The following were named as the winners, along with the nomination details for them.

Best Coast and Countryside Project: Cramlington and District Red Squirrels (CADRS) Group (The Thin Red Line)

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As CADRS enter into the final year of their Thin Red Line Project, they want to share the work the group have been undertaking to promote and protect the native red squirrel in south east Northumberland and beyond in the last 12 months.

The group has grown to over 50 volunteers, who cover over 24 square miles. Their volunteers have dedicated endless hours to red squirrel conservation work, community engagement, environmental maintenance work, which is being recognised locally and on a national level.

Since the last awards in 2023 they have had 18 community engagements in which they have carried out the following tasks – Planting over 1000 trees within East Cramlington Nature Reserve; Hosted the Cumbrian Red Movie at the Phoenix Theatre, Blyth; Conservation Day at Manor Walks, Cramlington; RSNE Spring Survey; Community engagement display at Blyth ASDA, Isabella Family Fun Day; Nature Trail Easter Egg Hunt at East Cramlington Nature Reserve; 12 Activity days at East Cramlington Nature Reserve, carrying out general environmental tasks.

The project’s conservation work will ensure that the native red squirrel is around for future generations to enjoy. This will benefit anyone who has a rear garden, access to public parks and the countryside, allowing the potential for all to observe this beautiful wild creature, whilst enhancing our local nature reserves and open spaces and ultimately enhancing Northumberland’s biodiversity.

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Individuals of the group have been recognised and nominated specifically for their work – the chairman was shortlisted as a mammal champion and he has recently been appointed as the UK Squirrel Accord Volunteer Representative. One of the younger volunteers was nominated and finished runner up in a young citizen of the year award.

Best Community Response to Climate Change Emergency Project: The Dales School Blyth (The Learning Train)

The Dales School works with children who have special educational needs and disabilities, with a large majority living in poverty. The project is designed to help families and children, learn the importance of reading for enjoyment and to give children the skills to travel on a train.

It encourages children to use public transport as a greener alternative to using cars and uses train travel on school trips and also uses recycling as a way to help families in poverty. 

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The project uses an old class 144 Pacer train located on the school grounds.

Children with special educational needs may struggle to use public transport as there are many practical life skills that need to be taught. The children learn how to buy train tickets at the Dales ticket office and to design their own train tickets using IT skills in the trains STEM carriage. The ticket office lets children role-play buying train tickets and also has secondary input of helping children use speech and language skills. 

The train's railway crossing helps the children to role-play how to use a level crossing safely. They learn how to read a train timetable using a real live stream timetable board and they learn how to be safe on the Dales train station and look at ways they must behave when on a train and station platform.

The children then go for a real ride on a train to put their new skills into practice.

The Outstanding Individual Award: Jill Brown

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This nomination is rather special as the same person has been nominated twice by two separate organisations in recognition of the work she does and the contribution she makes.

Jill has chaired the Friends of Valley Park since it began in 2022. The group maintains and conserves the 52-acre site of Valley Park in Cramlington. Jill is there every Thursday morning to welcome volunteers to the site and spends large amounts of time behind the scenes organising events in the woodland, such as the festive trail at Christmas, the RSPBs Big Garden Bird Watch and the City Nature Challenge 2024.

She ensures the bird feeders are kept full, updates the noticeboard with current information and is often seen picking litter around Valley Park and beyond. Jill also gives up her time to represent the group at the Cramlington Wildspaces Hub meetings.

She has compiled the Management Plan for Valley Park for 2024 to 2028 and completed the application process for the Friends of Valley Park to receive a Green Flag Community Award, the outcome of which will be decided by July 2024. Jill also writes funding bids for the group and has put together all of the risk assessments, providing guidelines for volunteers and visitors.

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Jill has also received a nomination from Cramlington Town Council, who said that Jill has been instrumental in the development of the Cramlington Wildspaces Hub and she plays a crucial job in co-ordinating volunteers and organising community activities.

She also runs two community singing groups aimed at promoting positive mental health awareness and well-being.

The Outstanding Individual Award: Barry Frost

Barry has been ‘plogging’ around north Northumberland for years. Plogging is litter-picking while jogging, which not only keeps Barry fit and healthy, promoting a healthy lifestyle, but also allows him to see litter that is sometimes hidden from view, but endangering wildlife.

Barry has literally collected hundreds of bags of litter from roadsides and verges. He regularly contacts the Neighbourhood Services team to give the location of the refuse for collection. 

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Just in the last few weeks, Barry (and his wife Erica) have cleared around 3km of local road verges around Rothbury. He explains ‘the rubbish fills a 70-litre bag roughly every 150m’.

He is currently making a short video to deter people from dropping litter from cars and to help raise awareness of the harm litter can cause.

Barry is part of Rothbury Rubbish Friends, but he regularly goes far and above the group’s usual activity.

He was nominated by Katie Scott, who says: “I believe the areas around north Northumberland are far more beautiful and safer for wildlife as a result of  Barry’s tireless quest to clear up litter.”

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Best Children’s Project: Stannington First School (Grow Together)

Pupils carried out an environmental audit of the school site that involved taking part in the Big Butterfly Count, the School’s Birdwatch as well as identifying plants, insects and other animals living on their site.

They researched different ways to encourage more birds and insects to live on their site and they discovered that they could make a difference and become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. The result was their ‘Growing Together’ project.

They have left large sections of the site to grow wild and using different mixes of wildflower seeds, each class was allocated a section to develop a wildflower meadow. They experimented to see which flowers were most successful and provided shelter for bees, butterflies and insects.

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The results have been a far greater range of flowers in the school grounds, which in turn has encouraged butterflies, bees and other insects. They even found tiny intricate dormouse nests tucked away in the long grass.

The pupils made bird houses and considered the most suitable locations for them, they made fat balls and pine cone feeders and even decorated an outside Christmas tree with fat balls and strings of berries and this spring have enjoyed watching starlings and Blue Tits raise their young.

Their allotment garden used companion planting to assist pollination and pest control and growing their own food has allowed the school to educate the pupils about buying locally grown produce and reducing food miles.

Schools Go Smarter Sustainable Travel Award: Allendale Primary School

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The activities for the active and sustainable travel project at the school include scooter training and Learn to Ride, Bikeability and Walk to School Week and Walk to School Month.

These events help to maintain the momentum throughout the year, but they also run school initiatives such as Bling Your Wheels, Active breaktimes, Whole school and class walks, Bike bus from the village.

Through all this work the school has been successful in increasing the number of active journeys to school and raising the profile of sustainable travel and sustaining it. They have increased the children's physical activity levels and made the environment around school cleaner and safer.

Best Young People’s Project: Corbridge Middle School (Go Green Gorillas)

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A team of Year 8 students from Corbridge Middle School called the ‘Go Green Gorillas’ are doing all they can to encourage other schools to start gardening and promote biodiversity.

The team of children aged 12 and 13 won the Young Green Briton Challenge in June 2023 with their enthusiasm and ideas to get more children outside growing their own food. They produced hundreds of wildflower seed packs and created bespoke grow-your-own-meal sets which led to their win.

The Go Green Gorillas have now raised over £1,700 from prize winnings and they have used these funds to reach more schools and to promote the National Education Nature Park, a programme that is being led by the Natural History Museum and the RHS.

Best Urban Project: Friends of Eastwoods Park (Miners Lamp Community Café and Hub)

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The Miners Lamp Community Cafe & Hub is located in Eastwoods Park, Prudhoe, and the Friends of Eastwoods Park are continually looking at ways that the Miners Lamp can support and enhance the lives of our community.

One of their greatest achievements to date was to bring back Prudhoe Town Show, with a wide range of exhibitors and exhibits.

In addition, throughout the cost-of-living crisis the group has given support to individuals and families facing fuel poverty with small grants towards their gas and electric and it has established a free community lunch club.

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