Community unity blueprint

From left, David Baxter the Principal Officer at Abram Ward Community Co-operative, Julie Davies the Platt Bridge Community Zone Manager, Liz Duggan the Tastebuds Manager and Councillor/Trustee Eunice Smethurst
From left, David Baxter the Principal Officer at Abram Ward Community Co-operative, Julie Davies the Platt Bridge Community Zone Manager, Liz Duggan the Tastebuds Manager and Councillor/Trustee Eunice Smethurst
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PLANS have been unveiled to unite Wigan social groups.

Abram Ward Community Charity, which gained registered status a fortnight ago, gained control of Platt Bridge Community Zone following an asset transfer from Wigan Council last August.

The group, led by principal officer David Baxter who has managed the Ribble Road facility since 1999, has already started running sessions and provided a home for a number of social enterprises and community interest companies (CICs).

The charity, also known as Abram Ward Community Co-operative, is in the process of setting up the borough’s second neighbourhood forum so residents can have a direct say in the future of the Abram and Platt Bridge areas.

Born-and-bred Abram resident Mr Baxter, 40, says ensuring the voices of local people are heard was also a major reason for the shift to charity status.

He said: “After we had done the asset transfer we hit a snag because the people we were targeting couldn’t really be members. The constitution was aimed towards social enterprises and groups, so we decided to become a charity to develop more our community associations.”

So far the charity has set up regular Minecraft sessions for children and provided a base for groups including No Secrets, which runs support sessions for people struggling with self-harm issues, Embrace Wigan and Leigh, Innovate and Inspire CIC as well as an on-site nursery and a mobile creche company.

However, David explains the Abram Ward Community Charity’s main focus is following in the footsteps of Standish Voice to create a neighbourhood forum, with a full public consultation on the idea planned for January.

He said: “It’s going to be called Abram ward Communities Together (Act) and it’s an affiliated group to the co-operative. We’re currently distributing surveys to local residents and busineses and will be consulting in the New Year.

“We’re going to be the second forum in the borough behind Standish but ours will be quite different. The group in Standish is focused on specific issues, whereas we want to find out what people want to see in this area, whether that’s working on housing, employment opportunities, tackling anti-social behaviour or transport campaigns.

“It’s giving people in the community a vehicle to bring everything that goes on here together and engaging with them, asking what sort of community they want their children to be living in 10 or 15 years from now.”

David says the charity also hopes to develop its own funding pot to support residents setting up their own social enterprises or not-for-profit groups so it is not reliant on dwindling council funds or Brighter Borough donations from individual ward representatives.

He also wants to take over other empty buildings in the ward and has just obtained a garage in Platt Bridge to start an unusual men’s sheds project, a scheme founded in Australia which provides somewhere for men at risk of social isolation to meet friends and practice hobbies.

He said: “We would eventually like to take over other assets in Abram because eventually we would like our own arts facility. We also want the community zone to be a hub at the centre of a network for a joined-up approach, rather than just having a focus on the one building.

“It’s fantastic to be able to work in the community where I live and know I can actually help other people, it’s such an empowering feeling.”

The charity has also continued to be supported by Wigan Council through The Deal since the initial asset transfer, and David says he is grateful for the town hall’s ongoing help.

Coun Chris Ready, Wigan Council cabinet member for communities, said: “We were delighted to fund Abram Ward Community Co-operative group through our Community Investment Fund and they’ve made great progress.

“They showcase The Deal perfectly through offering a range of community services, helping local people into employment and creating volunteering opportunities.”

For more information about the charity, visit www.abramwardcooperative.org