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Todmorden Pride

Taking a practical approach to the regeneration of Todmorden

Pride in Todmorden?

By Doug Blenky

How Doug Blenkey became involved with Todmorden Pride. An open letter about Doug’s experiences in becoming a Todmorden Pride Board member.

At the Made in Todmorden exhibition a visitor lingered in front of a monitor showing images of various familiar locations in Todmorden and Walsden – places well known to him from the daily activity of walking the dog.  Then he picked up a copy of a document from the table in front of the screen, prepared by Todmorden Pride and Todmorden Together entitled Walsden Development Brief.  This described proposals for improvements to the places being displayed on the monitor.

The exhibition stand was at that time being manned by Louise Castro on behalf of Todmorden Pride and Todmorden Together.  Noting the interest shown by the visitor, she – by virtue of gentle but sharply focussed questions – swiftly elicited the information that the visitor was a resident of Walsden, was recently retired and had a career background in urban development and transport engineering and planning, together with a wish “to put something back into the community” in which he lived.

An invitation to attend the next Todmorden Pride meeting was issued at once.

I was the exhibition visitor and went along to the meeting not knowing what to expect and not really knowing very much about what Todmorden Pride’s aims and ideals were, what the group had achieved, or what their aspirations were.  Were the participants a bunch of interfering do-gooders, well-meaning amateurs, there to seek local headlines and plaudits, or a group genuinely seeking to improve the environment in which we live?  Having lived in Todmorden for 17 years and with two friends already involved in Todmorden Pride, if I didn’t know the answers to these questions, how many people in the town were also in the dark?”

That first meeting provided most of the answers. 

The group comprises volunteers from many different and diverse backgrounds:  law, architecture, engineering, property development, project and business management, traders, business professionals, local councillors, local authority officers, life-long residents of Todmorden and relative newcomers.

Barrister James Gregory chairs the meetings, apparently reluctantly, but “in the absence of alternatives” he has done so willingly for about seven years and in all honesty, it’s difficult to imagine Todmorden Pride or the town could have a more passionate or eloquent advocate.  He has a strongly developed sense of what is fair for Todmorden in the context of competing demands within Calderdale from other towns in the district and has no hesitation in airing those views. 

Why is the group so wide-ranging? The nature of regeneration in this world is that, in addition to technical skills such as planning, building or engineering, there is a need for knowledge of the law, finance, the property market, the workings of local and central government and importantly the various forms of funding for public works. Other essential elements are those of knowledge of local history, current activity and future aspirations of those who live and work here. The ability to work in conjunction with other parties, which will have their own priorities and requirements, is essential.  Clearly Calderdale MBC is prominent in most if not all projects in which Todmorden Pride has an interest, but organisations such as Network Rail and British Waterways also feature strongly.
In a group such as Todmorden Pride, differences are inevitable, but diversity of opinion and a broad spectrum of experience are essential when considering regeneration proposals.  Whereas most people will have ‘a view’ on something and will appreciate the opportunity to express it, in some cases regeneration decisions can critically change the potential livelihood of traders and businesses in the town.  All those perspectives need to be considered at an early stage in the process, so it is expected and even necessary that there should be lively discussion over the issues, but the factor binding everyone involved in Todmorden Pride is a real intention to improve the community in which we live and work.  Everyone shows a willingness to contribute time and effort to pursue this aim. 

The discussions on options for redevelopment of Bramsche Square are an excellent example where opinions can be sharply divided and the debate has been aired extensively in the Todmorden News in recent weeks.  It is unlikely that a solution can ever be found to satisfy everyone affected, but it is important to try to reach a compromise which meets the needs and wishes of as many as possible and is, most importantly, a practical and achievable solution and not a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ wish-list with no hope of realisation. Todmorden Pride is clearly pleased to have been one of the organisations consulted at the ‘Options’ stage of the Bramsche Square planning, but they also recognise that other organisations will contribute different and differing views.  Along with the Town Council, Todmorden Business Association and Todmorden Market Traders, many people have been able to provide input and influence the options taken forward through meetings and the opportunity to provide written comments.  Articles in Todmorden News have demonstrated very clearly that not all these bodies have been happy with the process to date and there is obviously some further debate to come on the matter.

Bramsche Square is one of the more ambitious and high profile schemes under consideration which, when implemented and in whatever the chosen form, will require substantial funding and the involvement of many parties. Crucially, the selected scheme will need strong support from Calderdale MBC to facilitate, control and implement the works.  The work done to date and now being currently undertaken, will lead to production of a Development Brief for the area, which will guide proposals for redevelopment, but will not rigidly specify the detail for each site.  So it may take some time to come to fruition and there will no doubt be further ‘discussion’ within and without Todmorden Pride when each of the sites come up for development, but each will have to conform to the cohesive framework laid down by the Bramsche Square Development Brief.

That is in the future.  However, there are other areas in which Todmorden Pride has already made a valuable contribution towards environmental improvement in the town, by acting as a facilitator and catalyst to bring some less ambitious schemes to fruition. 

During last year Yorkshire Forward provided £7500 to Todmorden Pride for expenditure on improvement schemes in Walsden from the Rural Target Funds (RTF).  This year, sums of £5000 for both Walsden and Todmorden are available from the RTF.  These sums are conditional upon matching funding being found either from private individuals, local government, businesses or other grant sources.

In a key action in relation to the Walsden funding, Todmorden Pride undertook a survey through the village with a view to identifying areas or installations that could be improved without wholescale redevelopment.  The proposals, which have been summarised in the Walsden Development Brief, are relatively low cost schemes which would improve the visual impact of Walsden and act as a catalyst for actions by various parties, to promote sustainable regeneration and a safer, more attractive environment which would meet the needs of the people of Walsden.

Earlier this year, various areas of verges and slopes were cleared as the first steps taken to realise some of the proposals in the Brief.  The slope behind the small car park at Copperashouse, the railway embankment near Walsden station and the planted area between Rochdale Road and The Square were cleared of scrub and rubbish, with some thinning and pruning of trees and bushes. The benefits of the work can already be seen in the general health of the remaining plants and the regrowth of native species.

This work could be undertaken relatively easily and to a large extent independent of other bodies, but other proposals require the cooperation of others.  For example, Gordon Rigg’s Garden Centre has taken major steps towards making its site more attractive to visitors by stone cleaning of the boundary wall and the frontage of Bottoms Mill along Rochdale Road.  The cost of this work helps to meet the requirement for matching funding.  There are clear benefits for both visitors to the Garden Centre and residents alike.

It is has also been agreed that Calderdale MBC will incorporate some desirable works within a forthcoming refurbishment scheme for Rochdale Road, to be undertaken this year.  In this case it is intended that the wide variety of railings and fences, some now in a poor state of repair, will be replaced by more attractive and consistent designs that will meet current safety and accessibility standards.  It is also expected that some improvement will be possible by elimination of redundant road signs or unattractive street furniture such as bollards.  In fact, CMBC has already started works to implement improvements within Walsden and the Walsden Gateway site at Copperashouse as part of this programme.  The works being undertaken by CMBC are of a higher standard than would have been possible if they had been funded solely through Todmorden Pride and are fine examples of co-operative working leading to better buying power and a superior result.

Such cooperation with both public bodies and private individuals or businesses is essential and a priority for Todmorden Pride will be to liaise with interested parties and create partnerships to try to realise the remainder of the 17 local area improvements identified in the Walsden Brief.  David Storah, a life-long resident of Todmorden and with an architectural practice in the town, believes that, without the Walsden Development Brief, it would have been much more difficult to obtain the RTF funding and to get the cooperation of others in implementing the works.  The document demonstrates to other parties such as CMBC that thought has been given to problems and their solutions and provides an action plan and a basis for proper planning, providing an impetus to the works themselves.

So why, I hear you cry, is the same not happening in Todmorden’s other valleys? 

 

The answer is that it is, or will be.  Although the Walsden Development Brief is a short and concise document, the preparation necessary to produce it is time-consuming, with a visual survey preceding discussions with various specialists and interested parties, before a realistic and workable scheme can be developed.  As this is being undertaken on a part-time unpaid volunteer basis, it is unfortunately inevitable that everything cannot be done at once.  The good news is that a similar document for Portsmouth and Cornholme is in the final stages of preparation.

So, having mentioned the future and current activity, what of the past?

As a Todmorden News reader, I could hardly be unaware of the enormous improvements to Fielden Wharf but I was only vaguely aware of the involvement of Todmorden Pride.  I now know that the group was the primary instigator of the works and in conjunction with Todmorden in Bloom was an avenue to major funding.  Sources for this work came from the HERS Heritage Fund, the Arts Council and Yorkshire Forward, with Todmorden Pride acting as client and Calderdale MBC as agents for the work entailed in demolition of the Sonarga restaurant and subsequent reinstatement and planting works.  Involvement of ‘urban art’ makes this a really good example of a successful combination of skills and talents with obvious benefits for the town.

Just across Rochdale Road, there is yet another example – the Todmorden Gateway site.  This is a complete transformation – and provides another ‘civic link’, as in this case the planting was undertaken with Todmorden Rotary Club.

So, how did the exhibition visitor react to his first contacts with Todmorden Pride?  I guess the answer can be found in the fact that I am still attending the meetings and understand much more about what the organisation has done and continues to do. I now harbour hopes that my career background and experience might be useful in the future, as long as the brain cells are still in working order and my skills still current.

I was not aware, until James Gregory mentioned at my first meeting (and at subsequent ones) that anyone with an interest would be most welcome at Todmorden Pride meetings.  I know from experience that it is easy to sit on the sidelines and criticise – I’ve done it and if you’re honest so have you. I’ve decided to get involved and help if I can.  To paraphrase John F. Kennedy : “Think not what your town can do for you: think rather what you can do for your town.”  This perhaps is what has moved me to record these first impressions for Todmorden News, with the hope that others with a similar interest might also wish to be involved.  If anyone comes to future meetings of Todmorden Pride as a result of reading this, I shall regard it as a success and my first positive contribution. 

If not, it’s back to the day job – walking the dog!

Doug Blenkey

 

July 24, 2008

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Established in January 1998 the Todmorden Pride Board, operating as a voluntary group, includes a diverse range of representatives drawn from all sectors of the community of Todmorden.

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