Taken from the Chronicle and Echo.
MORE than six years have passed since Far Cotton was devastated by the massive floods that swamped parts of Northamptonshire and the neighbourhood has struggled to recover since. People have long felt the area is a forgotten outpost of Northampton, with few community facilities apart from a rundown library Now eight years after a group of them decided to do something about it, Far Cotton will finally get what it has been crying out for - a £1.25 mil lion new community centre. The go-ahead was given last week for the two-storey complex to be built on Far Cotton recreation ground in Towcester Road, proving the strength of people power. In Easter 1998 Far Cotton bore the brunt of flood damage in a town that was unprepared when the swollen River Nene broke its banks Numerous streets in Far Cotton were inundated by water and debris and the neighbourhood lost its only doctors surgery and pharmacy, neither of which have been replaced. Georgie Atkinson, a teacher in Far Cotton for 35 years, said: "There have been no real community facilities for a long time. Far Cotton was a forgotten area and when the flood hit, it just made it worse."
Anti-social behaviour, vandalism and crime has also plagued Far Cotton, with police invoking one of the first dispersal orders in Northampton there to break up gangs of trouble-making youths. Indeed Far Cotton was the first place in Northamptonshire to be targeted with government cash that is designed to improve the quality of life in deprived areas and bring it up to standard with better-off neighbourhoods. However when Far Cotton was struck by the floodwaters, the single regeneration budget money had to be spent on decontaminating land affected by the floods rather than anything else. The Southern Quarter Redevelopment Group (SQRG) was formed between three residents' associations in Far Cotton and nearby Briar Hill and Gloucester Avenue, individuals and councilors to try to reverse the situation. The group began lobbying
Northampton Borough Council, Northamptonshire County Council and the Northamptonshire Primary Care Trust for money and land for a community centre. After meetings and surveys with people living all over Far Cotton, they went to a Northamptonshire firm of architects, GSS Architecture, who help design projects from community groups and charities on a pro bono basis as part of their "Pro Help" programme (see side column). Once the public had made it clear what they wanted and architects had drawn up designs, SQRG had to try to secure the money to pay for it all from a network of different sources, agencies and councils. Ms Atkinson, who is vice chairman of SQRG, said: "We have spent so much time on this over the years. It has been constant, persistent badgering and a huge worry at times. But people have wanted this at the meetings and in the surveys.
"There are no worries that the building will not be very busy. There is so much demand that it will be heavily used by people." Rounds of grant applications and negotiations eventually yielded the land and cash to finally give Far Cotton the facilities the neighbourhood desperately needs. The new community centre, which will be built on top of vandalised, unattractive public toilets on the Towcester Road recreation ground, will house a new library with computer and internet equipment, sports facilities and changing rooms, medical services, a pharmacy, a cafe. Councillor Phil Larratt (Con, East Hunsbury), the leader of the borough council which put up the land, said: "The plans for the centre originate from the community itself so it is great to be giving the people what they want." To pay for the new library, the county council has offered £750,000 and Councillor Peter Dixon, the cabinet member for libraries, (Lab, Kingsley) said: "This will make a real difference to the community in Far Cotton and Delapre." A further £500,000 has been secured from the East Midlands Development Agency, as well as £200,000 from Northamptonshire Partnerships and £25,000 from the JR Bedford Arts Foundation.
Mary Burrow, chief executive at Northampton Primary Care Trust, said that Far Cotton's new medical facilities would "build on the success at Kings Heath and we hope to have more of these projects in the future". The money will also be used to refurbish the old arts block at Delapre Primary School so it can be used for cultural and educational classes, such as drama, dance and academic study. Since planning permission was granted earlier this month, building work will now start in February 2005 so the new centre can be completed and opened by September next year. Unfortunately success in seeing through people-powered community projects is rare due, in no small part, to the length of time it takes. The eight years spent trying to give Far Cotton much needed community facilities is not unusual. Ms Atkinson said: "Once facilities are up and running, we can think of ways of engaging young people in the area so hopefully vandalism and anti-social behaviour is reduced." Indeed Roy Connell, chairman of the Far Cotton residents' association, probably echoed many people's thoughts when he said: "We are just looking forward to the day we can walk through the front door."
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