Chair’s Report 2021 - 2022

We’ve had a busy year since the Parish elections last May.

Our previous chair, David Allen stood down after 25 years on the Parish Council and I’d like to thank him again for all he has done for our community during his long tenure.

Amy Riley stood as a candidate and was successful in joining the team from the May meeting. Following the election there were two vacancies on the council which were soon filled via Co-option by Michelle Brebner and Brenda Huddleston who returned to the PC after a short break.

Welcome to all!


Over the past year we have worked hard to manage the parish finances in a more sustainable way - meaning where possible services we provide should be self-funding from income generated by that service. Any surplus funds from services are always ploughed back into the community allowing us to do even more.

Good examples of this are the Indoor Market which also supports the Town Hall, the village allotments and the changes to the Cemetery fees which have allowed much needed improvements to the cemetery. We have also installed honesty boxes at the public toilets so visitors to the area can contribute to the upkeep of these facilities - even if it covers the cost of the loo rolls it all helps!

Ben our Parish Clerk has worked hard to ensure we are not paying more than we need to for anything. He has managed VAT refunds and challenged the council rates we were being charged for the cemetery site resulting in a refund of previously paid bills and significant savings going forward.

All of this work has meant we were able to set this years Precept, (the main source of funding we receive from residents’ council tax payments) at a level significantly lower than inflation. It’s always important that we offer good value for money for our residents - particularly at the moment when we are all feeling the pinch from increased fuel and food costs.


New Initiatives this Year

Last summer saw a refresh of our successful “Eat Local, Drink Local, Shop Local” campaign on our website with new window signs being displayed in all shop windows and “Bellingham Directory” posters in the village centre and car parks.

The aim of the campaign is to remind people of the fantastic selection of shops and services Bellingham has to offer - often at better prices than you can find online, as well as the benefits of that local touch and the reduction to your carbon footprint by not driving to other towns to shop.

As part of the campaign, August saw the launch of our Indoor Market on the 3rd Saturday of the month in the Town Hall. Bellingham was once a major market town for the area and the Parish Council have successfully brought the market back on a monthly basis.

As well as offering something different for shoppers, one of the aims of the market is to draw people into Bellingham from the surrounding area and encourage them to use the villages facilities while they are here. Hopefully they will continue to use our facilities through the rest of the month and not just a market day. The market also offers something different for visitors to the area and we have some fantastic local traders attending who wouldn’t have a local place to sell their goods. If you haven’t checked it out yet we strongly recommend you do!

Our website, which receives around 30 individual visits per day, has had new content added including a “Historic Bellingham” section which tells the stories of key local landmarks. This has been supported with the installation of information boards at these key locations creating a circular walk of the area which has received positive feedback from tourists and locals alike.


Parish Assets and Infrastructure

The past year has seen a lot of work undertaken with regard to maintenance of parish assets - some of which were looking in a sorry state of repair.

To date we have repaired and repainted fifteen on street park benches, painted the outside of the public toilets and the railings of the white bridge over Hareshaw Burn. We have also repaired some of the play equipment in the playground, replaced the tops of two picnic tables and relaid the gravel path in the Jubilee Field

This is a rolling project so look out for more updates over the summer months.

Painting of the railings at the Cemetery which was delayed by the COVID restrictions is nearing completion and is looking fantastic. Also, we are nearing the end of the restoration of the 125 year old cemetery chapel - this will allow us to bring an amazing old building back into regular use after decades of neglect.

Also in the cemetery, we have recently completed safety checks and and work required to make safe monuments for the first time on record. Checks will continue on a regular schedule going forward and the same work will soon be undertaken in the closed cemetery at St Cuthbert’s church.

Earlier this year we brought the fountain back to Fountain View with a new water refilling station on the side of the public toilets. As well as being a great service for the many cyclists who visit the village this helps towards our sustainability aims by encouraging people to refill bottles rather than buying and disposing of new ones.

A number of new litter bins have been installed at key areas of the village which have resulted in less litter and dog bags being disposed of under hedges!

We have a new Defibrillator being installed on the outside of the Fire Station which compliments the existing outdoor unit at the Town Hall and have plans for another to follow elsewhere in the village.

For connectivity, work on our project to provide Gigabit Broadband to the area is gathering pace with the build of our new network almost complete. This project has been driving completely by the Parish Council from its inception and will give Bellingham better broadband connectivity than most other towns in the UK. Working with our chosen provider WeFibre we have secured around £250k of central Government funding to build the new network with the  first homes and businesses due to be connected in the next month or so. Work on this project has prompted the incumbent provider, Openreach to bring forward plans to upgrade their network in the area too meaning residents will eventually have a choice of two world class broadband networks having historically been one of the last places to get new tech.

We have been contacted by a number of other Parish and County Councils around the country asking for our advice on initiatives we have rolled out such as the broadband scheme and installation of Car Chargers and we’re always happy to help where we can.

We have continued to support local groups and events through our small grants scheme. Groups who have benefitted over the past year have included the Bellingham Fireworks and Bonfire, Bellingham in Bloom who manage all of the planters in the village and the Bellingham Toddlers group who needed new toys and equipment. Anyone wanting to apply for a small grant can find all the details on our website.

This year has seen us become more actively involved in local planning consultations having been upgraded to full Consultee status with Northumberland County Council. We are also pushing NCC with regard to improvements in areas they control such as requirements for improved parking in the village for locals and visitors.

Looking forward to the coming year in addition to our own projects the Parish Council has two seats on the board of the Borderlands Place Programme for Bellingham which has up to £3m of funding to invest in our area. Public consultation for this is now underway so keep an eye on our website for more information.

As said already, the past year has been very busy for us and we look forward to continuing this momentum over the coming year to make the Parish of Bellingham a fantastic place to live, work and visit.

Thank you to all councillors for their contributions to our community over the past year.

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