I was elected to Sedgemoor District Council in a By-Election fought on the issue of the Poll Tax in 1990 and although I lived on Hamp, I represented the Victoria ward because of this for my first 5 years on Council. In 1995 I was selected for the Hamp ward and was elected in May that year alongside John Turner.
Hamp was one of Somersets most deprived areas with considerable unemployment, large areas of social housing and a tradition of neglect by local authorities that had seen the eating up of public open space by over-development.
When you get elected to public office you believe you can make a difference. I looked around on Hamp to see what exactly i could do.
Two things and two important people,encouraged me to believe that Hamp needed and was capable of a massive Community Campaign to attract funding to the area.
First, that a young teenage girl Teresa Windsor and her friends had tried to fight for facilities on Mansfield park but was getting nowhere. I approached her and we set up a Campaign together and took our case to Sedgemoor, to the TV and to the local press and things began to look like they could happen through the simple ideal of unity and the residents working with their elected representatives.
Secondly,I was now an SDC rep on the local Hamp Family Centre , where my daughter attended 'Woodcraft Folk' and where i was re-acquainted with manager Lynne Macriner who had signed my nomination papers for Council back in 1990 in Victoria. Lynne was toying with the idea of a Community Forum for Hamp but needed some help. The success of the Mansfield Park campaign seemed to show the way for this.
At this time the main thing people wanted was a community centre - my memories of the last one on Hamp (top of Rhode lane) hadn't been so pleasant as they involved my band being stopped midset there due to complaints from the neighbours , but this was clearly a major gap in provision on Hamp and a perfect focus for a united community campaign.
|Brian Smedley and his band the Dangerous Brothers playing at the old Hamp Community centre 1977|
Into this heady mix of social issues came 2 more important developments. Firstly we called a meeting to bring the estate together and identify the problems and way forward. From this we set up a 'Hamp Community Forum' (14.9.1995) . At a series of these meetings key partners emerged -noticeably the Holy Trinity Church – who were keen to offer use of their land , the Youth Club and the Family Centre. Crucially we needed to find a way to attract partners with real money – and big money. This would be difficult in the political climate of the day as Bridgwater was notoriously low on the priorities of Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council was widely perceived as being too Taunton orientated.
But crucially in 1996 there was a political revolution in Sedgemoor which we could take advantage of – the Tories had lost their overall majority in the 1995 election and had to share power with the opposition Labour and LibDem groups – this was an opportunity to get a commitment to Hamp from all of them..
On 20.3.1996 I sent out letters to every group active on Hamp plus to all organisations that provided services to the estate – the District and County councils, the Police, Housing Associations, Social Services etc and invited them all to a meeting.
The inaugural meeting of the HAMP COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION was held on 2nd April 1996. At this meeting the leaders of all 3 political parties said they would support a bid for funding for Hamp. After the meeting, now as secretary of the HCA, i wrote to the SDC Housing chair cllr John Turner (a Hamp councillor) to officially start the ball rolling for a SDC backed SRB bid for Hamp. The SRB was a Government initiative designed to direct capital funds to deprived areas and Sydenham had already received an SRB award – now it was Hamps turn if we could make the case – and at least we now had the backing we needed.
The crucial next phase saw the appointment of John Griffiths – SDC Housing officer, who had assisted in the Sydenham bid, to focus now on Hamp. It was Johns hands-on involvement, his vision to see Hamp as 'something like it;s own parish council' plus some useful contacts in the media, that now began to turn the corner for the estate. In september 1996 John set up the Hamp Consultation shop under the balconies of Grenville House , and a volunteer staff of 25 took comments from 1096 residents on what they wanted for Hamp. This massive response couldn;t be ignored.
The Chairman of the HCA was to be Frank Drake-a Hamp resident from Sunnybank, who came from the Holy Trinity group, and Franks energy and friendly disposition, was key to keeping people united and on course. Also crucial was headmaster of Hamp Junior school Kevin Short (brother of Labour MP Claire) who led a publicity offensive in bigging up the estate and it;s people, and John Thomson from the new arms length housing company SHAL who provided administrational back up and committee skills.
|Councillors Moore,Turner & Smedley at the SDC Hamp meeting alongside Graham Watson MEP, Tom King MP ,Frank Drake (HCA chair) and Cllr Sandy Buchanan-Chair of SDC|
By February 28th 1997, when Frank Drake addressed a packed meeting at Bridgwater House, the front row contained MPs and MEPs alongside councillors and residents, no -one could deny hamp had made it;s case for funding. “The key to a successful outcome for Hamp is 'Partnership' and ther disparate groups that work in the community pulling together” he told the gathered throng.
To swing this support into positive action we then set up 4 key sub-forums to work on the areas that came out of the consultation – 'Area Services' , 'Community Development and Safety' ,'Education,Training and Employment' and critically 'Youth'.
We made a video,with the help of John Griffiths BBC contacts and 'Hamp on Hamp' was now a valuable publicity tool to draw in partners and funding.
|Frank Drake, John Griffiths & Graham Watson MEP in the 'Hamp on Hamp' video|
We set up Community Fundays on the school fields called 'Tomfoolery' with much work put in by Franks wife Audrey , housing officer and resident Steve Austen and Terry & Tina Lambert from the youth service.
We produced newsletters and circulated them around the estate (these were days before widespread internet use) and it was something of a coup when one of our first appeals for funding was answered by Gerber Foods who donated 4 noticeboards (now pretty obsolete).
It was the creation of the Hamp Community Association and our partnership with Local Govrnment and other service providers that paved the way and provided the unity and organisation for our next big step – getting a major chunk of Government funding onto Hamp. By the end of the decade-and 4 short years after we'd started, Hamp was included in the next SRB round and the funding attracted was put to good use as the community wished by establishing a new youth centre as a priority-Recreation, and whilst we couldnt afford both that and a Community centre, we set about creating a Community information and drop in centre – 1 Edinburgh road.
Achieving these took a lot of hard and dedicated work during the last years of the 1990s and again during the first years of the new decade and after the funding ran out in 2007 the Community was left slightly on a limb but with a history of achievement behind it .
I hope that these lessons can be learnt and Hamp chooses wisely for it's next adventure.