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.
Ten members of the Coquet Youth Group in Amble have been working with the local arm of the Northumberland Youth Service and the community engagement team at regional firm 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.
The innovative approach to community engagement has been so well received that Banks is already looking at applying this on other projects around the country.
As part of efforts to ensure that its 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 on the Blagdon Estate to the west of Cramlington.
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 enable 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 developed a range of ideas during weekly meetings over a four-month period.
The meetings included planning and developing a young person friendly consultation, practising their presentation skills and extending their personal knowledge of surface mining and learning about Banks as a company.
The group undertook a consultation exercise amongst 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, at the weekly ‘Bacon Butty’ morning held at ATAC in Widdrington Station every Wednesday.
The comments reported by the group are all now being taken forward by Banks community engagement coordinator Emily Hunter, who acted as a mentor on the project.
Group members also fed back to the meeting on how it felt to be consulted about such an important issue in their community and the skills they had been able to develop and enhance by working on the project.
They are now planning to visit the colliery and the pit village at Beamish Museum to look at the history of coal mining in the North East, and to try to get more of a sense of the people who lived and worked around it.
Lisa Waugh says: “The youth group members took this work on with a lot of enthusiasm and interest, and they’ve had a really positive response to their idea from everyone that they’ve spoken to’’.
“On a personal level, they’ve not been involved with anything like this before, and have all gained a lot of confidence as the project has progressed’’.
“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.”
Banks is looking to extract around 750,000 tonnes of coal from the proposed Ferneybeds site, which would support around 40 jobs, as well as many others in local supply chain businesses, and which would also bring new substantial revenues into the local economy.
The scheme would also generate a benefits package of up to £75,000, which would be used to enable Banks to deliver a range of community and environmental improvements in partnership with local people.
Banks Mining already employs more than 200 people, most of whom are employed at the nearby Shotton surface mine in south east Northumberland and the Brenkley Lane surface mine in Newcastle, and has maintained an operational presence in this area for more than three decades.
Emily Hunter adds: “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.
“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 Youth Group members approached this project with real dedication and commitment, and really impressed everyone that heard them present back their ideas.
“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.”
Anyone who wants more information on the Ferneybeds proposals can contact the project team on 0191 378 6100 or via email@example.com