In this article we interview Pam Byrd, of the Deepings Neighbourhood Planning Team. The Deepings is one of the many neighbourhoods nominated for our Britain's Best Walking Neighbourhood Awards 2019 and received a special recognition. Pam talks about the Deepings, receiving the award and gives her advice for those looking to nominate their local area next year!
You’re part of the Deepings Neighbourhood Planning team. What motivated you to get involved in improving your local area for walkers?
The Deepings is an active neighbourhood, and walking is at the heart of how we live our lives here. The pleasure of walking here also makes it a great place for visitors to enjoy the town and the peaceful surrounding countryside. I am very keen to keep it that way and to encourage others to plan ahead - which is what motivated me to get involved in improving our local area for walkers.
Do you feel that footpaths need protecting in the Deepings? If so, how do you go about responding to this risk?
Planning ahead is vital as we are facing the prospect of accommodating several hundred more homes over the coming years, and it is clear to me that ancient rights of way and public footpaths will be affected by new developments. In our neighbourhood planning discussions, we have realised that opportunities for walking could be reduced or lost unless we take a very active stance to safeguard our green spaces and improve the potential for walking activity in the future.
Can you tell us a little more about your role as part of the Deepings Neighbourhood Planning team? What are your goals?
My particular role within the Neighbourhood Planning group is to ensure our plans incorporate features that support healthy living for people of all ages. I recognise that being a walking neighbourhood can also contribute greatly to being a healthy neighbourhood.
In addition to promoting designs that build a strong social community, we are working towards a number of long-term health goals for the Deepings:
(i) keeping our air clean by reducing car use for short local journeys;
(ii) improving mental health and well-being through gentle activity, companionship, and enjoying green spaces;
(iii) helping people to stay active and independent into older age;
(iv) having lower than average levels of child and adult obesity;
(v) having a lower than average level of type 2 diabetes, and (vi) reducing related health risks.
Do you think walking helps achieve these goals?
I believe that walking helps towards achieving these goals and I am finding that appreciating the benefits of walking is more likely to lead to making the choice to walk – as a means of getting to local amenities, for leisure, and for health.
The two local councils in the Deepings area have adopted the Deepings Green Walk Standard – can you tell us a bit more about that and what it will mean for the area as it develops?
As a progression from this line of thinking I have led the group in forming a strategic development policy that we call the Deepings Green Walk. It is a multi-functional approach with interrelated benefits across a number of areas that are explained on our website. This policy is now written with the help of colleagues and was adopted in March last year by both the Market Deepings Town and the Deeping St. James Parish Councils. It is also written into our Neighbourhood Plan document and this means that we are able to require developers to adhere to the standards we have set. This feels like a significant achievement.
And what’s the Neighbourhood Plan?
The Neighbourhood Plan is a legally-binding document that represents the distillation of information gathered from a range of local consultation activities. The process of developing the Plan has been underway for three years and, as well as agreeing to new housing sites, our document incorporates an assessment of the key characteristics of the area we wish to retain and promote in terms of geography, heritage, health and leisure facilities, parks and green spaces, local economy, and community provision. The Plan is due for completion very soon and will then be used by developers and Planning Officers to ensure all new proposals are in keeping with the wishes of the people of the Deepings. One important aspect is that residents have asked to have ‘safe, accessible, attractive walking routes that are sensibly linked to all key amenities’.
How does this Neighbourhood Plan fit in with other Local Plans in your area?
We are really fortunate here because we are situated in the South Kesteven District Council (SKDC) area of south Lincolnshire. This is a busy, thriving region for visitors and includes the historic towns of Stamford, Bourne and Grantham – each with its own special features and good places for walking. We therefore have considerable support from SKDC for developing the Deepings as a walking neighbourhood for resident benefit and to contribute to our visitor economy. The SKDC Local Plan also recognises the need to maintain and build our green infrastructure.
How else does the local community get involved in making the Deepings into a better walking neighbourhood?
As a community, we all get involved in one way or another. We have several organised walking groups here of all ages including a very active number of retired residents. Many children are able to walk to their local schools, and the councils regularly undertake group walks to help keep the footpaths open and to identify any repairs or improvements. People are able to walk to the shops, the library, the health centre and the many social venues.
Areas for walking are very well maintained though contracted work, and specific areas are attractively planted by volunteers. Other groups and individuals take it upon themselves to collect and dispose of any litter as they walk through the parks or footpaths – this ensures we all take a pride in our neighbourhood and many follow their example.
What recent change has made the biggest impact to improving walking in the Deepings?
As well as improving the maintenance service levels, the change that has had the biggest impact is the public purchase of small areas of spare land that have been recovered and turned into delightful spaces for everyone to enjoy – along the riverside and elsewhere across the Deepings. Each has a description board with a short explanation about the site and each provides seating for walkers to rest in a pleasant spot. Maintenance of these areas is a joint activity between the councils and groups of volunteers.
What’s the key to local residents and the council working well together – can you offer any advice for other people trying to make their neighbourhoods better for walking?
My advice to other areas is to seek as much positive local engagement as possible – listen to people on market day or in public places, ask them what would help to make their area better for walking – then apply to the various funding organisations to make a series of small changes to show that their voices have been heard. Simply keeping pathways clean, providing seating, and making areas more attractive with planting can help to encourage walking, also to repair any damage as quickly as possible.
Providing information about the benefits of walking and holding walking events also helps to raise public interest. When pedestrian areas are planned by local councils, I suggest ensuring there is plenty of green space and colourful, interesting features so that the area does not look too grey and soulless on a wet afternoon.
What are some of your favourite places and events to walk to in the Deepings?
The Market Place is looking particularly colourful at present with beautiful hanging baskets. Our big events such as the carnival, raft race, remembrance services etc. take place in locations that the majority of residents are able to walk to. We will also be taking part in the South Lincs Walking Festival later in the year.
What motivated you to nominate the Deepings for the Ramblers’ Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood awards?
How did I come to nominate the Deepings? When I was searching the internet for information to support our policy development of the Deepings Green Walk I came across an article and read about the Ramblers Walking Neighbourhood Award and immediately said ‘Yes’ to myself as I thought it might help with providing some criteria. Then when I read through the (old version of) the nomination form I thought ’Yes, Yes, this describes just what we are about - we can do this.’ There was still time to apply before the deadline and the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group did not take much convincing and agreed that I could give it a go.
To then find out that the Deepings are judged to be in the final ten feels very special, particularly when we could see that we are in such good company. This acknowledgement also feels like a great achievement and gives us considerable confidence to make progress with our work of ensuring the Deepings continues to be an excellent place to live, work and enjoy life – by being a nationally recognised walking neighbourhood
I would also like to commend the Ramblers for all the work they do and for launching this campaign in particular as so many people will benefit from the development of more walking neighbourhoods.
Pam Byrd, Deepings Planning Neighbourhood Team
Could your neighbourhood be one of Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhoods next year? Our Charter for Walking Neighbourhoods encourages councils to make their neighbourhoods greener and more walkable: give your area the best chances of being next year’s winner by asking your councillors to sign-up to our Charter.