Caroline can often be found at the Prudhoe Community Hub, opposite the Spetchells Centre just round the corner from the Co-op entrance. She has supported the concept of Prudhoe Business and the local community from day one.
We chatted to Caroline about the PCP and Promoting Prudhoe initiatives.
PB: Tell us about the Prudhoe Community Partnership… CW: The Partnership is about working together to make Prudhoe a great place to live and work, welcoming for all. Our vision was to create a friendly thriving town that has attractive facilities, great shops, and good services – a town which looks after and values everyone. We are involved in a range of projects informed by several consultations with the local community.
PB: Who’s involved in the PCP? CW: We have two employees – Gail Jewitt and Julie Smith, who do an amazing job for us and we have a development officer, Alan Gerono who works part-time on some of the larger initiatives. PCP is a registered charity with a board of trustees. I am Chair, then we have Deputy Chair Paul Murray, co-owner and business development manager for Fab Face and Body beauty and hair salon.
We have our trustees, who are retired-GP Dr Steven Quilliam, electronics specialist Paul Hillary, Prudhoe Town Council and Northumberland County Council representative Angie Scott, Dot Dickenson, Town Councillor and retired nurse, Brenda Grey, who retired from a Government Office role, Iain Watt, the local Co-op manager, Dr Carole Stephenson, Director of Education in Social Science at University of Northumbria, Judith Savage, Senior Finance Officer with Newcastle City Council. We have two Trustee vacancies and are looking for committed local people to take on these roles.
PB: What’s been the partnership’s biggest achievement? CW: I’d say our biggest achievement to date is building and running Spetchells Centre – a one-stop community resource on Front Street, managed by Gail Jewitt and Julie Smith. It houses the library, the local police, the town council, Prudhoe Youth Project and several small businesses and groups. We also have meeting rooms that can be booked out and can include teas, coffees and snacks for meeting delegates too.
There are also several other significant projects the Partnership is working on. These include, developing The East site into a new iconic building for youth and community use; working with the old Prudhoe Hospital developers to take over the Walled Garden area for community use; working on a wide range of climate change and bio-diversity projects to support our local community in coping with the challenges of the raising costs of living and climate change; repurposing The Glade to incorporate a bandstand and other performances and market areas.
PB: How did Promoting Prudhoe come about? CW: PCP is part of the working party looking at the Borderlands funding which should see up to £3million coming to Prudhoe in the next few years. In part of the early consultations, it was identified that Prudhoe is very bad a promoting itself and PCP likes to take on challenges which is where the Promoting Prudhoe Project was born. The Visit Prudhoe Guide and the Visit Prudhoe Website were born out of this project and group members are currently working on several ways to promote our great town. The initiative is supported by PCP, Visit and English Heritage, and it’s about promoting Prudhoe as a visitor destination and reminding people in Prudhoe of all of the great things you can do here, from our outdoor areas, parks, walks, but also shops, leisure facilities, bars and restaurants. The local history, heritage and Prudhoe Castle are all part of the local attractions.
PB: Tell us about Front Street 2030… CW: The Partnership has been working with Prudhoe Town Council and local traders on long-term plans to help Front Street develop with the times. Compared to other high streets in Northumberland, Front Street is thriving with lots of good independent shops, however forecasts suggest that the number of retail outlets will decline over the next 10 years due to competition from online shopping and the changing needs of the consumer.
What we need to focus on is protecting as many of the products and services you can’t buy online – like a haircut, an eye test – or not yet anyway! But we’ll also need places to get a coffee with friends, meal with family, a beer at the big club or a game at the snooker club. Then there are businesses that will thrive online but need an office space, like the accountants and estate agents we have on the street. Another key aspect of our work is to look at ways of attracting new and relevant businesses onto Front Street to add to its vibrancy and community offer.
PB: What about retailers, can they survive the growth of the supermarket giants and chains? CW: We’re proud of our independent retailers and we really need them, but we can’t deny that the chains create jobs and footfall. Businesses like Shoe Fix, which does shoe repairs and key cutting, could be overshadowed by large chains, and others like our pet shop and fruit and veg shops we need to use or lose. We need to look at what is missing from the Front Street offering and find ways of filling the gaps. We use these services and need them, so my plea to anyone who needs a key cutting or wants to meet a friend for coffee or a game of pool – think local first.