This report was presented to the Annual Assembly of Electors on 9 May 2022, by the Chair of the Parish Council, Stuart Dunn.
It has been another challenging year hasn’t it?
Coxhoe Parish Council has continued to deliver services to our residents, despite the pandemic and meeting remotely via ZOOM for much of the year, or spread out around the Main Hall of Coxhoe Village Hall or Quarrington Hill Community Centre. I want to start with a massive thank you for an outstanding contribution from our Clerk Claire Llewelyn who throughout has been brilliant in truly exceptional circumstances. She has been pivotal to keeping things going and re-starting activities and events under extremely difficult circumstances.
Thanks also to Angela Searle our former Admin Officer who reached the very happy point of one’s life that retirement was just too good not to enjoy. She was a great addition to our team, hit the ground running and supported Claire and our team wonderfully. When they were asked to step in and support with the administration of the Coxhoe Community Pantry they did and have provided invaluable support to those who need it most. Over 1,000 different people from within and around our villages have used the Pantry over the last 12 months and in increasing numbers. Thank you also to the volunteers and everyone who has made donations of food. All really appreciated.
Claire and Angela also contributed most of the administrative support and organisation of Coxhoe Cares which built up a network of 80+ volunteers providing support to vulnerable and isolated people in our community by getting shopping, other errands, isolation visits and calls many for people with not enough family support or not being able to go out and meet people. A lot of people benefitted and some enduring friendships have been established. Thank you also to all the volunteers in Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill who supported people and families through the pandemic. I hope you know just how much you helped get people in our communities through it.
It has been a busy year recruiting new staff this year too. We welcomed Helen Shingleton as our new Admin Officer who like Angela has hit the ground running. Ian our long serving Senior Youth Leader also left us and despite rigorous interview processes, Sarah Graham was promoted to Youth Team Leader, Jasmine Morris was promoted to our Youth Worker post and Ellie Lowes promoted to a permanent Youth Auxiliary post. Our youth team have again been staggeringly good in their performance and support to young people in our communities. They have worked throughout the pandemic even when face to face sessions weren’t possible providing online sessions which were enormously popular with our young people, and they even extended the number of sessions delivered and young people engaged. The comments we have received from young people and their families demonstrates how important their contribution has been and how much it has mattered, helping many of our young people endure the isolation effects of the pandemic.
2021 was election year and I place on record our thanks to those councillors who left us and welcome those who were re-elected or elected for the first time. We are a very hard working Parish Council and deliver a massive amount of services for our size and precept. We spend a lot of unpaid time dealing with issues raised by you our residents and trying to continually improve quality of life in Quarrington Hill and Coxhoe.
This year we re-introduced our annual fireworks display after a 1 year enforced break which was enjoyed by over 2,000 people. Part of the reason for an organised display is to reduce the impact on animal owners by encouraging people not to buy fireworks for private displays and for them to be going off ad-hoc in the weeks before and after. We re-launched our Christmas Tree lighting event in Coxhoe with an epic visit from Santa, who’s coming again this year. Despite the adverse weather, our fairground rides not being able to turn up etc. a good time was had by all.
We re-let our grounds maintenance and planting contracts for Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill for the next three years this year. A lot of people don’t realise that all the hanging baskets and tubs and main green areas are provided and maintained by the Parish Council. Durham County Council (DCC) don’t do any planting in our villages they only cut the grass on the housing estates. Indeed this year we had a survey of 340 mature trees growing on Parish Council land in our villages carried out, to make sure they are healthy and safe. Appropriate maintenance is being carried out on those in need. These are in addition to the thousands of trees we have in Kings Wood, where we have carried out some footpath improvements this year, trimming back of bushes around the walkways and applied for an annual Countryside Stewardship Grant to make further improvements. All these trees don’t just keep our villages looking green and lovely and prevent development they also help with our contribution to the Climate Emergency. The Parish Council also maintains some of the countryside walks around our villages too.
Your Parish Council pays annual grants to help sustain our community facilities too, to Quarrington Hill Community Centre, Coxhoe Village Hall, and Active Life Centre, and also rental income for them by basing our youth services there too. Works to restore the Coxhoe Cricket ground as an all-purpose community sports ground is nearly complete, and this is already being used by our youth services, Scouts and hopefully Coxhoe United will start using the football pitches soon, and we have had enquiries about a cricket team about basing themselves here this summer as well. These will also be available for community use.
We have put an offer to owners of land behind Cornforth Lane to purchase a strip of land from them to provide off-street parking for residents and a school drop off parking area only accessible from the roundabout, with a view to DCC restricting other parking on the street to remove all school traffic from Cornforth Lane in line with the public consultation carried out in October 2020, which was supported by nearly 90% of residents across the village who replied. We are about to survey residents about the installation of CCTV on Coxhoe Front Street to improve public safety, and if agreed we have provided funds in this years budget to install them and also improve Christmas Lights in the village which are also provided by the Parish Council. We have also just signed a lease to purchase the green land to left side of Quarrington Hill Community Centre as you look at it to protect it and also to provide much needed outdoor space for the community centre.
Also in line with the 2020 survey results we have continued to challenge the closure of Quarrington Hill Churchyard, which 87% of residents of Quarrington Hill opposed, with more than half of the households in Quarrington Hill responding to the 2020 survey. Coxhoe Parish Council kept residents informed when the Cassop-cum-Quarrington with Bowburn Parochial Church Council (Church Council) formally applied to the Ministry of Justice for closure, so that you could respond directly, and you did. Your Parish Council even offered to fund the further geophysical survey to conclude if it was safe to continue burials there to prevent closure if it wasn’t absolutely necessary of safety grounds, which a 2019 geological survey said was required. The Church Council, refused our offer of help and proceeded to apply for closure regardless of our offer of help. We continue to challenge closure with the Ministry of Justice.
One casualty of pressures of work due to staffing and the pandemic has been preparations for a Neighbourhood Plan and settlement boundaries to protect our villages from even more housing, which again was supported by 87% of residents in both villages. We will endeavour to progress this in the coming year.
Our aims of getting a new GPs surgery opposite Coxhoe Village Hall were frustrated by a lack of financial support from the County Durham Clinical Commissioning Group and the surgery. Plans are now ready to be submitted for planning approval for 16 bungalows for rent by Karbon Homes once legal issues with the site are sorted. The option is still there for the Doctors to get on board by substituting the 5 bungalows behind ‘Seventeen’ for a surgery, but time is running out for them. Both of these options were supported by the 2020 survey.
I hope and trust you will agree that Coxhoe Parish Council is continuing to work hard for you. As ever you are more than welcome to come along and talk to us at our monthly meeting or contact us at any time.