Exciting time’ for rural hub despite coronavirus

AS a place designed to support and showcase local businesses, Kirkharle courtyard became a vital community hub for rural communities throughout lockdown.

Kirkharle Courtyard provides a unique Northumberland shopping experience in the historic farm setting near Wallington.

As well as being the birthplace of the famed royal landscape gardener – Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown – Kirkharle Courtyard has a number of galleries and shops to visit and watch the artists at work.

Claire Cocker, business development manager at the courtyard, said staff had to quickly think on their feet to adapt to the changes.

She said: “I was recruited in March and was working to develop it into its next phase and then Covid-19 had shut all the units but one.”

Brown’s Lakeside Larder remained open and transformed into a local one-stop-shop for the rural North Tyne and Redesdale.

Claire explained: “We quickly had to develop an e-commerce presence and put together an online ordering system, which catapulted us further to become the local go-to business to provide local support.”

The launch of the evening Kirkharle Curries takeaway service proved a huge hit with the surrounding communities who often have to travel to Ponteland for a takeaway meal.

“We had to get into delivery mode and we covered an area from Hexham to Morpeth and in between.”

Businesses at the courtyard benefited from a Ray Wind Fund grant to help them reopen and purchase vital health and safety equipment.

And despite four months of lockdown, Claire remains confident about the future and building the profile of the shopping space.

“Overall Covid-19 had provided us with a lot of opportunities and given us lots of ideas. It’s a really exciting time.”


By Bill Edgar @CourantBill

Funds help young farmer in his studies


A YOUNG farmer has been able to continue his studies in agriculture thanks to a community funding grant.

Lewis Hunter, who lives near West Woodburn, is one of 14 students on an agriculture college course, and must travel between Newton Rigg College, Penrith, and its satellite offices at Hexham Mart to complete his training.

The 16-year-old, who was schooled at West Woodburn, Bellingham and Haydon Bridge, relies on his mother to drive him on his college days.

Mother Caroline explained: “Lewis is totally committed to the farming life, but there is no public transport serving our area, so until he passes his driving test, it falls to me or a family member to ferry him to his agricultural lessons.”

But the farming family have now been awarded a travel grant by Vattenfall’s Ray Wind Farm Fund to support his studies.

The Steel, where the family farms, lies in the Ray Wind Farm’s area of benefit around Kirkwhelpington. Caroline and her husband Andrew farm a suckler herd in addition to 1,650 Leicester, Blackface and mule sheep.

Lewis said: “The Ray Wind Funds’ help towards travel costs is very welcome while I complete my training.”

Newton Rigg tutor Peter Armstrong, a sheep farmer from Cumbria, convinced the board of the community funding group to offer financial help in the form of a travel grant for youngsters such as Lewis, easing the burden of travel costs to rural families.

Lewis added: “Newton Rigg’s stockperson apprenticeship course is very comprehensive and Peter is a first class tutor, ensuring that whatever we learn at home on the farm, is compatible with our Newton Rigg syllabus.”

Although Lewis is a capable pair of hands on the farm, he still has to qualify in telehandling and complete his ATV course.

His days spent at the Hexham satellite office are classroom days, learning about veterinary medicines, animal feeds and supplements, clipping sheep and first aid.

The academic work and practical work run in parallel and Lewis expects to qualify next year.

Peter said: “Newton Rigg is a fantastic option for apprentice agriculture. The grant is a great plus for students, enabling them to achieve enhanced experience on the programme and will help farming parents with their young farmers in education.”

The coronavirus pandemic has currently halted studies, but Lewis is determined to pass all his qualifications before returning to his parents’ farm to fulfill his future farming ambitions.


By Bill Edgar @CourantBill

Mountain rescue team drone pilots are ready for action


MOUNTAIN rescue volunteers have received a technological boost to their safety equipment after the donation from the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland helped fund a drone.

The Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team (NNPMRT) – a voluntary emergency service to manage rural incidents and call-outs – received the £4,916 donation from the Vattenfall Ray Wind Farm Small Grants Programme at the Community Foundation, supported by Vattenfall and the Ray Wind Fund CIC, who donate money to the rural communities.

The drone is now being actively deployed and six mountain rescue team members have completed two days of drone training, delivered by Drone Partners.

All passed the course and have since undergone their flight assessments to become qualified pilots.

Ninette Edwards, the mountain rescue team fund-raising officer and team member, explained: “Sending a drone down a steep sided gorge or across a rocky area can identify the exact location of a casualty, as well as identifying risks to manage when sending out a search party.

“This grant from the Ray Wind Fund provided us with an invaluable asset which will ultimately save time and lives.”

Iain Nixon, team leader of the 45 NNPMRT volunteers, said: “One of the popular events we organise annually is the Cheviots Challenge which last year raised over £3,000 for our funds.

“The challenge is one of the most arduous annual hill endurance challenges in the county and mountain rescue volunteers will be able to use the drone as part of their rescue equipment.”

Peter Ramsden, chairman of the Ray Wind Fund Board, said: “We were delighted to help the NNPMRT, which is a vital part of rural life in our county, enabling adventurers and those who love a challenge to enjoy the great outdoors, in the knowledge that there is a skilled set of people equipped with the latest technology and ready to help in the event of difficulties.”


By Bill Edgar @CourantBill

Rural broadband plan picks up speed


A PROJECT to bring better broadband to the North Tyne and Redesdale area has taken a significant step forward.

Broadband for North Tyne and Redesdale (B4NTR) proposes high speed broadband to rural premises, increased download speeds and future community financial benefits.

Set up by a team of volunteers last year, B4NTR has teamed up with Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) – an organisation which prioritises connecting people to full fibre broadband and aims to future-proof communities which have been digitally disadvantaged for years.

The group’s detailed gigabit fibre broadband plan has been approved for funding by the Government Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) and residents can now register online to receive more information.

Lynne Rawles, from Great Bavington, who is one of the founders of the project said the government funding and support from the Ray Wind Fund had been crucial in helping them achieve their aims.

The network map for the broadband, which includes Barrasford, West Woodburn and Kirkwhelpington has been produced and volunteers are now consulting landowners. The digging process will be purpose-built to the appropriate environment with the ducts buried underground.

Paul Eastaugh, from Chollerton, said: “One in five people in this area don’t have an internet connection, and we’re aiming to get more and more people to think ahead about their connectivity.”

The new broadband package promises 1,000 megabits per second ultrafast fibre to the home at a cost of £30 per month.

David Ryall, community planning officer at B4RN, added: “The best thing about BARN is the work it does with communities and the people are all supportive of it. There’s the potential for money to be reinvested.”


By Bill Edgar @CourantBill

Residents join forces to save their village pub


RESIDENTS fighting to save their village pub have launched a community group to keep it open.

Earlier this year, Corsenside Parish Council received a notice from the county council about the potential closure of the Gun Inn in Ridsdale.

A meeting organised by residents John Bassett and Alison Thomson, which around 40 people attended, was held in a local barn due to the village’s lack of community spaces, where it was agreed to launch a campaign to keep the pub open.

A community group called ‘The Ridsdale Community Group Limited’ has since been formed to seek ways of securing the future of the pub as a community hub, providing services and amenities to the local community.

The group has acquired funding through the Ridsdale Village Hall Fund and the Ray Wind Fund for the initial administration and conducting a building survey.

However, a further £250,000 needs to be raised to purchase the pub and carry out essential repair work.

The Ridsdale pub was put up for sale by its current owners, Liz Askew and Michael Rutherford, earlier this year and they hope to complete a sale by Christmas. But residents fear it could close and be converted into a private house.

A survey, created by the steering group, was completed by 50 households who suggested what the pub’s building could be used for.

Answers included a tea room, convenience store, post office and also the host of book groups and craft classes.

Chairman of the group John Bassett said: “We are determined we can make the Gun both a successful business and hub for the community long into the future.”

More information can be found at


By Bill Edgar @CourantBill

Birtley Craft Group receives funding boost


A THRIVING North Tyne craft group has benefited from funding to extend its regular programme.

Birtley Craft Group, which prioritises sharing skills, materials and equipment, has received a £1,190 grant from the Vattenfall’s Ray Wind Farm Fund.

Local resident and former teacher, Sally Danys, created the group four years ago and the funding has allowed the 22 group members to move meetings to the main hall at Birtley Village Hall where they can carry out work on a potter’s wheel, peg-loom, silk painting frames or rag-rugs simultaneously.


By Bill Edgar @CourantBill