Skip to Main Content

The difference one man can make

A story from Distington Big Local.

By Sue Miller, Big Local ambassador, Whitley Bay Big Local

Distington is on the west coast of Cumbria between Barrow and Maryport Big Locals. It’s a village overlooking the Solway Firth, and with 2000 residents is one of the smallest Big Local areas. It has a higher than average population over 65 years, relatively high numbers of lone parents, and very few representatives from BME communities.

When Distington Big Local consulted with the community, they identified concern about the general appearance of the village. A village maintenance worker job spec was developed and Ronnie, the person employed, has become a real ambassador for and the face of Big Local in the village, encouraging people to get involved.

I met Ronnie Hewer and Alan Lowe from Distington Big Local at Newcastle Spring Event and heard their story. People are taking more pride in the place as a result of Ronnie’s input and not just leaving it all up to him.

Ronnie’s job is to:

  • maintain the green common areas of Distington that are undermaintained
  • provide appropriate maintenance to Distington bus shelters
  • operate the Distington mowing machine Big Local has bought
  • offer service to vulnerable residents that need grass cutting or minor DIY
  • provide general maintenance of tools and equipment (with professionals as necessary) – using cellar in local church for storage
  • support community litter clearing and other appropriate volunteer activities
  • further identify areas/facilities where maintenance is required.

Ronnie is stopped and asked to do jobs all the time and has had training to do more specialised jobs e.g. using chain saw. A one mile ‘health walk’ was created with the local GP surgery and Ronnie keeps that pathway tidy. Distington are also generating some income by Ronnie being paid to do tidying up jobs for organisations in the village e.g. local church, youth club.

How Ronnie was employed

  • Advert went in the job centre and the newsletter that went into every house in the area.
  • Initially a 30 hour post, quickly became full time.
  • Distington Big Local’s locally trusted organisation employs Ronnie and he works to their policies. Ronnie does his own risk assessments for lone working and using heavy equipment.
  • If Distington Big Local becomes an incorporated organisation in the future they will need to deal with employment issues.

Key learning points

  • Employing someone that lived locally who had relevant experience meant Ronnie ‘hit the ground running’ and had existing networks to draw on.
  • For a similar role you need someone that is a ‘jack of all trades’, but willing to be trained.
  • It is sometimes hard to find out who in the council or the community is responsible for what in the outdoor environment.
  • The council still pays for some grass cutting. The blurred edges over responsibilities requires ongoing ‘culture change’ and brokering conversations. Often these are easier at the strategic level or with frontline staff than they are with service managers who hold budgets that are under pressure.

What’s next?

Ronnie would like this role to become a social enterprise where he has assistants that are paid, as well as volunteers. Distington are thinking about moving towards an apprenticeship scheme to train support workers. They are looking at getting grants from outside Big Local to do this.

To find out more, get in touch with Distington Big Local.