SEVERAL community groups across the North-East have been awarded funds from train company LNER, all with a focus on addressing regional issues, delivering education or benefitting the environment. 

Two Darlington groups, a park group and disability group, were amongst those in the North-East who have benefitted from London North Eastern Railway's (LNER) annual £500,000 Customer and Community Investment Fund (CCIF).

The fund aims to help customers and communities along the LNER route to undertake projects and initiatives that address local issues and deliver educational or environmental benefits.

More than 12,600 individuals directly benefitted from the last round of funding and with the Covid-19 pandemic impacting many parts of society, the boost provided by CCIF this year is set to be more important than ever.

Mental health has been a particular focus, and this is reflected in the projects receiving support with a significant proportion coming from charities and organisations committed to supporting people with their mental health and wellbeing.

One project to benefit from the fund is Friends of North Lodge Park Community in Darlington.

As part of their Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP) focus, the Friends of North Lodge Park Community in Darlington will be running a Grow Together Eat Together Holiday Programme.

Families on low incomes find it difficult during school holiday periods to keep their children active and entertained whilst providing good quality nutritious food. The programme aims to help alleviate some of the strain felt by so many families during school holiday periods, by providing exciting, enjoyable, meaningful activities and provision of meals for children who might otherwise be completely disengaged.

Yvonne Richardson, from Friends of North Lodge Park, says she applied for the fun last September (2019) but the process has been delayed due to the pandemic. She says the group needs to reevaluate how to spend the money as a year has elapsed since the application and new projects must be Covid-secure. 

The Northern Echo: The last event Friends of North Lodge Park did - hosting Corporation Road School filling the bandstand with Christmas seasonal singingThe last event Friends of North Lodge Park did - hosting Corporation Road School filling the bandstand with Christmas seasonal singing

The 72-year-old said: "We cannot say what we are going to do now for definite but it is all for the community, for children in the area and for our park. We want to see the park used, it's so important for children to get out after months of Covid and lockdowns. 

"The grant is fantastic news for Northgate though. There are lots of exciting ways we can use the park for next year. For some time we were focused on getting the bandstand restored but now it's time to move forward."

Darlington Association on Disability's positive travel project has also benefitted. The Positive Travel Project will support disabled people and carers of all ages to tackle the barriers they face in accessing transport and travel in a variety of ways.

While it is currently on pause due to the pandemic, the project will offer a range of options including; individual travel training, group access to social and leisure opportunities for disabled people and their families, regardless of age or impairment and group participation to tackle issues affecting disabled people. 

On Tyneside, the Lantern Initiative was awarded funding too. This project run by Newcastle Cathedral and provides a listening ear, practical support and a place to sit or sleep for people who are homeless, marginalised, vulnerable or struggling with their mental health.

When they are ready, individuals will then be offered opportunities to volunteer in roles in the Cathedral, helping them to improve their self-esteem and move them towards potential independence and employment.

Revd Canon Peter Dobson, conon for outreach and discipleship at Newcastle Cathedral, said: “The funding will help us develop the support we provide to those people who, for all sorts of reasons, are vulnerable and, in particular, those who find themselves being marginalised.

“The newly restored Cathedral will provide the same welcome to someone who has slept on the streets the night before as to the Lord Mayor – it is a place for everyone.

"Through the project, we will help individuals to not only enhance their CVs, but also help to re-build their self-confidence and self-respect - which in turn will lead to greater social integration and possible employment.”

The Northern Echo: Seven StoriesSeven Stories

Another project set to receive support from LNER is On Board with Stories run by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books, in Newcastle.

The funding will help vulnerable young children across the North-East build their happiness and resilience, better understand themselves and others, and make sense of the world around them through the power of reading.

Rachael Wilson, Community Investment Manager at LNER, said: “2020 has seen incredible community spirit across the country so as part of our commitment to being a responsible business, we’re dedicated to playing our part by supporting communities along our route, especially as many charities and local organisations are experiencing such a challenging year.

“LNER is incredibly proud to support a number of other projects in the North-East.

"Each project delivers a crucial service so with our help, we hope to enable them to have an even bigger impact in their local communities, especially as we head into another difficult time for many.”