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£217m programme reaches key milestone as CELL Big Local signs off 

The first of 150 areas taking part in a unique, long-term funding programme putting residents in the lead of local decision-making has distributed all of its £1.15m grant and delivered 8 years of transformative community action and investment in 4 Northumberland villages.

Launched in 2012, Big Local is a resident-led funding programme providing 150 areas in England with £1.15m each to spend across 10–15 years to create lasting change in their neighbourhoods. The £217m originally provided by The National Lottery Community Fund to support Big Local is the largest single-purpose, National Lottery-funded endowment ever made, and the biggest-ever investment by a non-state funder in place-based, resident-led change.

The Big Local programme closes in 2026, and over the coming 3-4 years all 150 Big Local areas are set to follow CELL Big Local in completing delivery of their plans, with many now looking to build further on their achievements. CELL Big Local is the first area to achieve this milestone and has already established a new organisation – CELL Villages in Partnership – to take its vision of a strong and thriving community forward.

CELL Big Local is 20 miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne in a former coal-mining area on the Northumberland coast.  It is named after 4 villages – Cresswell, Ellington, Linton, Lynemouth – that were jointly allocated Big Local funding in 2012. Since then, alongside kickstarting the flagship redevelopment of the Cresswell Pele Tower, CELL Big Local has delivered a wide range of activities and initiatives in the villages it serves, including providing new community facilities and a powerful sense of collaboration and community spirit.

Examples of CELL Big Local’s achievements:

  • For children and young people, CELL Big Local provided funding to enable Ellington Juniors football club to successfully fundraise for new home ground pitches and new clubhouse, funded the creation of a new Scouts group which now has 80+ members, and provided support for play and fitness equipment in parks in Linton and Ellington.
  • A refurbished kitchen in a Lynemouth community building, holiday clubs, drop-in sessions for young people, large events and support for local activities, improved places to meet and fostered community action and togetherness.
  • A modest £500 given to Northumberland Rivers Trust for a beach clean-up event inspired a campaign that led to a £7.5m cliff restoration project in Lynemouth Bay, located within a Marine Conservation Zone. The beach clean-up involved 75 volunteers and raised awareness of major pollution coming from an abandoned landfill site, a legacy of the decommissioned Lynemouth Power Station. Local concern about the waste’s impact on beach users and marine life can be traced back to this small, early intervention by CELL Big Local.
  • The restoration of Cresswell village’s at-risk medieval ‘Pele Tower’ is the CELL Big Local group’s most visible achievement. Built in the 14th century to protect families from raiders from the Scottish Borders it’s one of around 175 that once stood in Northumberland. A £25k grant from CELL Big Local levered in an additional £750k of Heritage Lottery Fund investment and the Pele Tower is now fully restored and open to the public as a historical attraction.

Heather Wallace, vice chair of CELL Big Local, said: “Residents used to feel this was a ‘forgotten area’ that lacked investment. Now there’s a real sense of collaboration and community spirit. It made a huge difference that we, as residents, decided where the money was needed and what mattered to the people who live here. Our confidence has grown so much and there are some real improvements in the area. We’re much stronger now, and we’re determined to carry on.

Matt Leach, Local Trust’s chief executive, said: “Big Local proves that the best way to deliver change in local communities is to provide them with the time and resources they need and trust local people to make their own decisions on what is best for their area.  The amazing achievements in Cresswell, Ellington, Linton and Lynemouth show just what can be achieved by putting power and money directly in the hands of the community.”

John Mothersole, Chair of The National Lottery Community Fund for England, said: “This announcement marks a major milestone in the Big Local programme, through which £217 million of National Lottery funding has gone directly to 150 communities across the country to create meaningful change and leave a legacy for future generations.

 “Thanks to National Lottery players, this programme was set up to empower people to make their own decisions based on what works for their local areas. The CELL Big Local partnership has truly made a positive difference to the lives of local residents and has given them the tools they need to prosper and thrive.”

A large-scale independent evaluation of the Big Local programme is run in parallel by Local Trust, the place-based funder delivering Big Local.  A forthcoming report prepared as part of the evaluation has concluded that for the Big Local programme as a whole “the benefits exceed the costs by at least £60 million and maybe up to £1 billion, suggesting that Big Local provides good value for money.” 

This is consistent with economic analysis by Frontier Economics published in 2021, which concluded that “A £1 million investment in community-led social infrastructure in a left-behind area could generate approximately £1.2 million of fiscal benefits and £2 million of social and economic benefits over a ten-year period…There is also evidence that community-led investments can be particularly effective at engaging communities with social infrastructure investments, which may further enhance the scale of outcomes achieved.”

  • As well as providing funding, Local Trust also supports Big Local is unique because of its scale and ethos, offering long-term, resident-led hyperlocal funding alongside substantive support to nurture community leadership, skills and confidence.
  • In addition to over 1,600 local participants who form the decision-making partnerships, the Big Local programme has created an estimated 6,500 local volunteering roles.
  • Big Local volunteers have free access to a programme of support including learning and networking events, training and capacity-building partnerships.
  • Big Local areas fund and support a wide variety of projects to create lasting change in their communities. Each area is different, and residents decide for themselves how they want to use their Big Local funding of £1.15m. Based on consultation with residents, they design and deliver plans which include carnivals, sports, community gardens, footpaths, lunch clubs, mental health services, economic regeneration and creative arts. Many also seek to take on community assets such as community centres, green spaces and other places to meet.