Byers Green – scaling up community interaction to realise economic benefit

Byers Green is a tightly knit, small and post-industrial community that is facing major challenges in declining local amenities and public services. A group of local volunteers involved in the local co‑operative, Byers Green Club, participated in the first year of the Community Economic Development (CED) programme in order to scale-up existing informal neighbourly help networks.

Byers Green Club focused their CED plan around improvements to social care and transport opportunities for local people, increasing the local engagement of residents in two recently developed housing estates, and providing more amenities such as a community shop.

Context and area description

Byers Green is a former mining village in County Durham with a population of approximately 670. It is situated to the north of Bishop Auckland and has close links with two nearby smaller villages – Binchester and Newfield (one mile). The Byers Green colliery closed in 1931 and many continued working in neighbouring pits, and then increasingly transferred to factory work during the 70’s & 80’s.

The area is predominantly rural and while Byers Green is not a ‘pretty’ village, it has a central village green, a pleasant 19thC church, is surrounded by farmland and has an open aspect on high land above the River Wear. The local post office and village shop in Byers Green closed a couple of years ago.

National statistics indicate that the local health score is below the North East average, which is below the national average. Unemployment is higher in the area than both the regional and national average. 34% of local residents have no formal qualifications with 15% educated to degree level.

What has been achieved

Through their participation in the CED programme, Byers Green Club were able to access support and come together to identify short, medium and long-term objectives including:

  • Domiciliary care services. A number of Byers Green residents are employed to provide domiciliary care to the elderly, working for providers located outside of the village; the CED group identified the opportunity to develop a village based co-operative model of service which will contribute to the area’s economic vibrancy
  • A community shop which would act as a ‘hub’ for the village and include a community owned post office
  • Local Food and Farmers Markets. There are several allotments in and around the village and surplus crops could be used to develop a local food network selling/exchanging locally grown produce.

Key learning

The presence, and support, of independent and external professionals and consultants has helped to increase buy-in from local stakeholders and residents.  The Byers Green Club produced a CED plan which is rooted in a holistic and participative approach to economic change. Participation in the CED has increased the confidence of local people to handle larger projects with greater financial implications.

Lil Cassie, Byers Green Club said:

“The CED plan process has strengthened networks and relationships between Byers Green Club, the school and church and initiated other links including with the local police and crime commissioner (PCC)”

There is a sense amongst participants that local efficacy is increasing, including ambitions to develop enterprises, meet more needs locally and develop the local economy. Whilst these ‘wins’ are relatively small in scale, sources of ‘untapped potential’ have been identified and new strategic relationships are being developed between the Byers Green Club, Durham Community Action (DCA), a charity providing support to local communities, allotment users, church groups and the local primary school.