Innovative approach to community engagement
Northumberland youth group members take on Ferneybeds consultation project challenge
MEMBERS of a Northumberland village youth group have been undertaking a special project to find out the views of their peers about a proposed new surface mine development in the south-east of the county – an innovative approach to community engagement that has been so well received that Banks are looking at applying it on other projects around the country.
Ten members of the Coquet youth group in Amble have been working with the local arm of Northumberland Youth Service and the community engagement team at Banks Mining to identify ways to gather the opinions of other local young people about Banks’ proposed Ferneybeds surface mine, which would be located to the south of Widdrington Station, around eight miles north-west of Ashington.
As part of efforts to ensure that their community engagement programme around the Ferneybeds proposals covered as many different elements of the local community as possible, Banks invited the youth group members, who are aged between 14 and 16, to visit their working Shotton surface mine.
After giving them a presentation on both how surface mining works and what the company’s Ferneybeds proposals entail, Banks challenged the youth group members to come up with a consultation strategy that would allow them to find out what other young residents of the area think about the plans.
Working with Lisa Waugh of the Coquet Youth Team, the local youth service which covers Widdrington Station, the group undertook a consultation exercise among 35 of their peers, collated the results and then presented their findings to an audience of more than 20 local people, including members of Widdrington Station and Ulgham parish councils and the Coastal Villages Community Forum.
The comments reported by the group are now being taken forward by Banks’ community engagement co-ordinator, Emily Hunter, who acted as a mentor on the project. ‘The work of the community design panel that we’ve been running on this project for the last two years has been extremely valuable in shaping the Ferneybeds planning application that we will soon be submitting, but we wanted to make sure that we included as wide a cross-section of the local population as we could in our public engagement work,’ she explained.
‘Gathering the views of young people is an unusual undertaking for any type of development proposal, even though their opinions and ideas are just as valid as anyone else living in any given area. The way in which this project has worked and the benefits that everyone involved has taken out of it demonstrates the validity of such an approach, and we’re now looking at ways in which it can be adapted to seek the views of young people in communities around other Banks schemes.’
Lisa Waugh of the Coquet Youth Team added: ‘The youth group members took this work on with a lot of enthusiasm and interest, and they’ve had a really positive response from everyone that they’ve spoken to. The presentation, consultation and teamwork skills that they’ve developed will be really useful to them in the future, and it’s great to now see the group’s ideas being taken on as part of Banks’ planning process.’