Groundwork celebrates 30 years of environmental and social regeneration work

Groundwork's 30th anniversary sees them celebrate their environmental and social regeneration work in the North East

Volunteers work on the creation for a sculpture park as part of Groundwork's Teesdale project
Volunteers work on the creation for a sculpture park as part of Groundwork's Teesdale project

The loss of hope – as most football fans in the North East will currently tell you – can be corrosive and deflating.

That was one of the problems in the 1970s which the dear departed Countryside Commission sought to tackle as it looked at the blight of neglected and derelict land on the edges of urban areas and rising unemployment – both often linked to the decline of traditional industries.

One of the answers was the Groundwork concept – bodies specialising in local social and environmental regeneration.

Now Groundwork is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its debut appearance in the North East.

The first Groundwork Trust was set up in Easington in County Durham, an area badly hit by the loss of its coal mining way of life.

Over the next 20 years other Groundwork Trusts were established in West Durham, South Tyneside, Middlesbrough and Northumberland.

In 2009 Groundwork North East was created, bringing together the delivery of over 350 projects per year that continue to help improve the quality of people’s lives, their prospects and potential, and the places where they live, work and play.

In October 2010 Cumbria officially became part of the network to create Groundwork NE & Cumbria.

Kate Culverhouse, founder and MD of Groundwork North East
Kate Culverhouse, founder and MD of Groundwork North East

Groundwork Newcastle and South Tyneside continues as a separate unit..

Today, Groundwork in the region employs a staff of around 250, working alongside volunteers, on ventures to improve the local environment of communities, and at the same time develop the skills and confidence of people to hopefully lead to full-time work.

Groundwork aims to deliver a range of social and environmental regeneration programmes which involve communities, private businesses and public sector partners to make sustainable change.

Groundwork NE & Cumbria has bases in Bishop Auckland; Sedgefield; Cockermouth; Darlington; Easington Village; Annfield Plain; Lobley Hill, Gateshead; Middlesbrough; Morpeth; Stockton, Sunderland, and Ulverston and employment offices in Bishop Auckland; Carlisle; Darlington; Durham; Newton Aycliffe; Redcar and Workington.

Its strapline is Changing Places, Changing Lives, and that just about sums it up.

Achievements during the last three decades have included:

Encouraging 202,396 young people to become involved in community-enhancing projects.

Helping 3,515 people into employment.

Assisting people to gain 3,502 qualifications.

Supporting 3,282 businesses.

Improving more than 11 million square metres of land.

Planting 153,959 trees.

Its work includes:

Helping young people to participate in their local communities and providing a range of positive activities, building confidence and self-esteem to transform their aspirations and reinvolve them in education or training.

Supporting people to retrain, gain confidence, skills and work experience, from structured volunteering to apprenticeships and formal placements with employers.

Helping communities and business take action to tackle climate change – and by doing so reduce fuel poverty and help business be more efficient.

Running initiatives in disadvantaged communities to improve the self-esteem, physical health and general wellbeing of residents. This includes walking, environmental volunteering, food growing, and play activities.

Working with communities and partners to create or improve open spaces that are well-designed, relevant to the needs of local people as well as being attractive for wildlife. Groundwork also helps to create activities to put land back to use, such as sport and exercise schemes or food growing, even if it is on a temporary basis while waiting for land to be developed.

Its regeneration portfolio breathes life into redundant buildings and secures a base for new green, business or community organisations, which in turn has the potential to deliver jobs and community support

Its chief executive is Kate Culverhouse, who is based at The Greenhouse, a wind turbine-powered eco-business centre in Annfield Plain, which Groundwork built 10 years ago.

She says: “Groundwork is very proud to have been at the heart of the North East community for 30 years.

“When looking back over the growth and development of Groundwork in the region during the last three decades, it has been both humbling and heartening to see how it has helped individuals and communities overcome often challenging circumstances to transform lives and communities.

“A focus has been very much about improving places and communities – landscape improvements to places like parks, play areas, open spaces, paths, bringing under-used land back into use, getting people out into the countryside, helping people with health conditions, youth work and employment programmes.

“Whether it is about helping to choose a healthier lifestyle, or providing opportunities to be involved in local decision making, every service we deliver I believe is helping to make a positive difference, and we still have a lot to do.”

Current projects include:

Newcastle Air Quality ( . This is a DEFRA-funded project, via Newcastle City Council, to involve the community on air quality issues and to promote the use of sustainable transport.

Groundwork has worked across every ward in Newcastle, calling on 200 volunteers to monitor air pollution levels, primarily from vehicle exhausts. For many volunteers, this has been a year-long project, with the data being analysed by the council to determine the level of air pollution across the city. This will then influence future environmental health and travel policies.

A second element is promoting the use of sustainable transport and avoiding car journeys, especially single-occupancy, short-distance car trips by cycling, walking, bus use and vehicle sharing.

Communities Living Sustainably: Operating in Sunderland and Middlesbrough, Groundwork’s Environmental Business Studies (EBS) section supports businesses with energy audits, sustainable travel plans and developing and implementing environmental management systems which ensure legal compliance as well as promoting waste and energy measures.

Twizell Burn Green Infrastructure Masterplan: In conjunction with the Environment Agency and Durham County Council, EBS is managing a project along the Twizell Burn, from Annfield Plain to the River Wear at Chester-le-Street.

The project covers water flow, surface water flooding, access and recreation, culture and heritage and energy generation to help improve the quality of the watercourse.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer