Sunderland's Back on the Map project hailed for creating much-needed family homes in city
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Lisa Nandy visited the project’s base in Toward Road, Hendon, to see for herself the progress that is being made.
Accompanied by Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, she met with organisers and local residents to discuss the way the scheme has worked with the community.
Back on the Map started life in 2001 as the New Deal for Communities Partnership and is now a registered charity, based in the Carnegie Community Corner - the former Hendon Library - which it took on from the city council and renovated eight years ago.
In recent years, the organisation has moved into housing, snapping up dozens of vacant or landlord-owned properties in Hendon and using Government cash to turn them back into much-needed family homes, with the rents generated used to carry out more refurbishments and fund the charity’s other work.
Initiatives have included installing dormer windows to turn two-bed cottages into three-bedroom family homes.
Last year, it joined forces with Hendon-based Sunderland Home Care Associates (SHCA) to turn an empty shop in Villette Road into a community café and training space, dubbed Social Kitchen.
The project is intended to help counter food poverty by providing access to affordable fresh produce and healthy meals, as well as providing training placements for young people with learning disabilities.
Lisa Nandy said the key to the project’s success had been the close involvement of the local community, which she would like to see replicated in others parts of the country: “I had been told before I came that this was the model that would help to reverse the decline of other communities and put power back in the hands of the people who live in them and that is exactly what I have seen,” she said.
“It was so impressive to see what they have built here from scratch. People want the power to do things for themselves and Back on the Map shows exactly what can be done when people have these resources in their own hands.”
The Government had made much of its ‘Levelling Up’ plans to address regional inequalities but had yet to deliver, she said: “We have had successive governments that have come up with regeneration schemes.
"There is a scepticism about whether Levelling Up is going to do anything.”
Back on the Map chair Julie Gray said Ms Nandy had been impressed by what she had heard from local people who had benefited from the project’s work: “I think she could not fail to be impressed because of the stories our residents told her about the ways in which we ware working together,” she said.
CEO delegate Joanne Cooper said the project’s prime aim was to talk ‘with, not to’ residents. The idea was to work together to improve the area, rather than impssing things on people: “Th residents are the heart of the community ,” she said.
"They need to be on board with what we are doing if it is to have the maximum impact.”