Projects making a big difference to communities across Oxfordshire have received a cash boost from county councillors.
Everything from community centres, buses and fridges have been supported as part of Oxfordshire County Council’s Councillor Priority Fund.
In February last year, the county council agreed to set aside £945,000 in 2018/19 and 2019/20 for the fund, with charities, groups and organisations invited to apply for support.
Councillors are deemed best placed to identify projects that would enable residents to play an active part in their community.
All 63 councillors have £15,000 to spend in the first year, which could be rolled over into the second year when they were given the same amount again.
So far, £513,000 has been spent, with some councillors indicating they would roll their 2018/19 funding into 2019/20.
It gives councillors the opportunity to support things that really make a difference.Cllr Mark Grey
Cllr Mark Gray, cabinet member for local communities, said: “I’m really delighted with this priority fund because it gives councillors the opportunity to support things that really make a difference in their own division.”
Other schemes supported by the Councillor Priority Fund include traffic safety measures, war memorial projects, first-aid training, playground equipment and the installation of defibrillators.
The fund has been controversial though with some opposition councillors speaking out against the proposal when the budget was agreed last year.
Labour group deputy leader and Witney councillor, Laura Price, said: “Given the huge cuts to services from children’s centres to bus routes, it’s counter-productive to take £2m from the budget and put it into a system that doesn’t have any strategic framework, other than the whim of the individual councillor.
“There is also no system for looking at the impact of the money on achieving the council’s aims as set out in the corporate plan.”
Labour county councillor for Banbury Ruscote, Mark Cherry, recently used £5,000 from his share of the fund for a special table for people with dementia at Lark Rise Care Home.
While he believes the money could have been better spent on things like youth workers when the budget was agreed, Cllr Cherry has no qualms about using the cash as it will just go back to the council otherwise.
“I don’t see an issue with it, I have that sum of money and I will use it to the best of my ability as if I don’t use it then it will go back in the pot,” he said.
Sports centre at heart of community
Ramshackle dressing rooms have been replaced by a modern sports and community centre at Lower Heyford.
The £200,000 project was driven by the community and included £99,500 from the Lower Heyford Village Hall Fund plus a £50,000 grant from the Football Foundation.
There was also major investment from Lower Heyford Sports & Social Club, Lower Heyford Relief In Need Charity, the parish council and Heyford Athletic Football Club.
Cllr Ian Corkin pledged £2,000 from the Councillor Priority Fund which will be put towards a patio area and rubber decking for parking.
Work on the King George’s Sports & Community Centre started in June last year and is on course to open on May 5.
The new dressing rooms are a big boost for Heyford Athletic, who are going well in their bid to hold on to the Oxfordshire Senior League premier division crown they won last season.
Cllr Corkin said: “It’s a terrific facility right at the heart of the community. It will be used for so much more than just playing football.
“It has really opened things up and you can imagine people now wanting to hold things like wedding receptions and engagement parties here. The community has really led from the front on this.
“My grant has just been to help with some of the finishing touches outside. I know there’s a grand opening coming in May and I look forward to attending that.”
Local firm JD Varney Builder and Carpenter has led on the project from start to finish. Cheryl Pike, treasurer and social secretary on the centre’s management committee, was delighted to see the project nearing completion.
She said: “We were short of the money to finish off bits and pieces outside the building so we greatly appreciate Cllr Corkin’s grant and all the other pledges of funding.”
New wheels for volunteer bus service
The wheels keep turning on a volunteer-run community bus service which is about to welcome a new vehicle to the fleet.
OurBus Bartons’ fundraising campaign since April last year has enabled it to buy a replacement bus.
The 16-seater Treka minibus cost £45,000 second-hand and will go into service once signwriting is completed.
County council leader Ian Hudspeth, whose division includes the Bartons, contributed £5,000 towards the campaign from his Councillor Priority Fund, repeating a donation he made last year.
OurBus Bartons chairman Ken Caldwell said: “Both this year and last year we were very lucky to receive funding from Cllr Hudspeth’s priority fund.
“Last year we used it for ongoing maintenance to keep the buses running and for some staff clothing. This year we put the funding towards the replacement bus.”
OurBus Bartons was launched in 2016 to provide an immediate response to cuts to rural transport. It has since delivered more than 14,000 passenger journeys.
Operating from Middle Barton, a dedicated band of around ten volunteer drivers make journeys to health centres in Deddington and Chipping Norton, as well as nearby supermarkets and train stations.
Mr Caldwell said: “It’s a lifeline to many in the community. We’ve just taken on a new service to the Windmill Day Centre in Deddington which means four elderly members from Middle Barton can get out and about.
“It’s providing them with activities, companionship and a meal, which would otherwise not be possible as none of them have their own transport.”
Cllr Hudspeth said he was delighted to see OurBus Bartons going from strength to strength.
He said: “One of the key problems in Middle Barton was the lack of a local bus service so the community got together to put on this service.
“It’s providing a useful connection to local services for local people. This priority funding has helped them buy an additional bus so in case one breaks down they’ve got back-up.”
How to apply for a slice of the pie
The purpose of this Councillor Priority Fund is to support councillor priorities in their areas.
It is for each councillor to decide how their allocation should be spent and with each area of Oxfordshire different it’s important that county councillors have the flexibility to allocate the money in the best way.
Anyone interested should discuss the proposal at an early stage with their county councillor and seek their support for their proposal. Funding is awarded on a rolling basis, so early applications are encouraged.
Applications will be assessed within 28 days to make sure your project proposal meets the scheme’s requirements.
The last date for applications to be submitted is January 31, 2020.
For more information, visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/community-and-living/thriving-communities/councillor-priority-fund