9th January 2017
Local people in Morecambe's West End are coming together to make sure their area is a great place to live. A group of social entrepreneurs - people starting businesses that do good - are at the vanguard.
Recently, things have changed - following the loss of two piers and the closure of tourist attractions, visitor numbers have declined. Some local residents are taking that change in their stride, using their talents to try and find a new identity for the West End.
Elspeth Roberts (also known as Ellie) is one of these people. Born in Morecambe - and a resident for most of her life, bar university - the call of creating something positive in her hometown was just too strong. She set up Wise Up Workshops to empower the people that live in her area to find their voice and tell their own stories.
The workshops blend drama, performance, arts and relaxation to promote personal development, confidence and communications skills. "Our work is based on a fundamental but important belief," she explains, "When given the opportunity everyone can flourish and grow. We've all got our own story to tell, our workshops help people to do that."
Ellie has developed workshops that use drama, performance and arts workshops to bring people from all walks of life together. Working with groups like schoolchildren, families and service users, she gives everyone a chance to learn that their voice is important.
Ellie was supported by Star People - a programme delivered by UnLtd in partnership with Local Trust. It backs people to start social ventures in any of the 150 Big Local areas across the UK, including West End, Morecambe Big Local.Ellie won her first Award in 2015, and with it she's been able to make her venture sustainable and recruit a paid team.
The venture's growth has come against the odds. Ellie was diagnosed with Leukemia, just as Wise Up was really taking off. It forced her to consider what was really important.She realised that Wise Up, with its unique blend of play, creativity and togetherness, was something the town really needed. In fact she was so determined to make it a success she continued to run her venture from her hospital bed. She was answering emails and making phone calls despite her nurse's best efforts to make her rest.
Ellie fought off cancer and is now in remission. Her work has become the talk of the town, leading to connections with other social entrepreneurs around Morecambe.
Sue Gardner runs a cafe, The Sanctuary, a venue that offer so much more than good food and perhaps the best cup of tea in Morecambe. It's a community centre - a place where people can take part in crafts like baking and knitting, and chat to other people from their area.
"Everyone needs a place away from home," says Sue, "People need a space where they can socialise and be part of a community." Sue replicates that sense of community in her work with other social entrepreneurs, like Ellie. She's been giving over her impressive front window display to other ventures from the area, including Wise Up.
"I love what Ellie is doing," she says, "There are people working hard around here - we have to support each other, don't we?"
Recently Sue has started a meals on wheels service, delivering good quality, nutritious and home-cooked food to vulnerable people around Morecambe. The people that use the service are invited to eat their meals in the cafe, bringing them out of their homes and into a space where they can make and meet friends.
"Lots of people coming here don't really speak to anyone else all week," Sue says, "They might be quiet when they first arrive, but once they meet the other people you just can't shut them up. There's nowhere else like this in Morecambe. There's nowhere for lots of people to go and spend time - it makes such a difference to their lives."
Sue, like Ellie, was supported through Star People - getting cash and support to set up their social ventures. The programme has been running just over five years, supporting over 900 people to create social ventures which make their places even better to live in.
Nine in 10 of the social entrepreneurs supported feel they are better able to create social change. In Morecambe, this social change is evident. One big impact in Morecambe is how social entrepreneurs have been able to create spaces for the community.
There were only two spaces people could come together in Morecambe's West End, social entrepreneurs have doubled that. Having physical spaces people can come together is vital for any community. The importance of these spaces is different for different people - for some it might be somewhere to make friends; for other people they're places to come together and team up, to tackle issues in their community or create events to celebrate where they live. Regardless of why people use these spaces, they're real assets that make communities vibrant.
The Exchange is another space created by social entrepreneurs in Morecambe. Created by Jo Bambrough, Beki Melrose, and Melody Treasure, it's a shop and community venue built on a bedrock of creativity.
The profits they make by selling art that they sell in the shop is used to widen and develop opportunities for people in the West End - one of Morecambe's most challenging neighbourhoods.
"We believe that being creative and resourceful is not just good for us, it's good for the wider community too," explains Jo, "We love it when we can convince people to try new things, connect with others and start to take notice of their surroundings."
"Morecambe is such an epic place; the beach, the bay, the views and the people. Sometimes you need creativity to really approach what's right in front of you."
The Exchange runs a variety of courses, sessions and projects. They ran a campaign, #FromMorecambeWithLove, which got people to create art postcards to celebrate their place. A 'Brew-Bar' has quickly become the go-to place for people to start their creative endeavors, meet like-minded people, or just enjoy tea in artistic surroundings.
The Exchange's shop is a cornucopia of creative delights, selling locally made art, crafts and gifts - all profits being used to deliver free to access workshops for the local community. Beki explains that The Exchange was part of a movement getting people to look at Morecambe in a different light: "We went to university in Lancaster, but just love Morecambe. People have noticed what we're doing and there are more creative people moving here now. The place has a bright future."
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