2020 FOVALD Annual Report

Friends of the Valley and Little Dene Annual Report

Little Dene Park, High West Jesmond ready for visitors April 2020

2021 Committee Annual Report

Where do we start?

COVID-19, lockdown, local gatherings, police call-outs, fibre broadband rollout, graffiti, dumping – all have impacted on our local environment over the last 12 months, with the impact of COVID-19 likely to continue throughout 2021.

Despite the negatives, there are positives to take from 2020 – our trees, shrubs & bulbs all performed with their usual zest and spring and summer brought stunning backdrops on the Valley & in Little Dene Park, encouraging many residents to enjoy the local surroundings.

Although we don’t have user totals, there is little doubt that the number of residents making regular use of Little Dene Park and the Valley, as part of their regular exercise, has been, and remains, quite significant……therefore, we’ll start with the positives!

Splashes of colour in Little Dene Park, High West Jesmond – spring & summer 2020

Use of the Park & the Valley

The COVID-19 restrictions in early 2020 coincided with the regular appearance of a Coffee Van parked on Moorfield close to the junction with the Little Moor cycleway and opposite Little Dene Park.

As a consequence, the park, and its seats, became a place to meet not just for local residents but many people from other parts of Jesmond & Gosforth.

Throughout the spring and summer, all four seats were regularly occupied whilst families and other groups were frequently picnicking on the grass.

The popularity of the Park has continued into 2021.

It was noticeable that the seats in the Park were occupied by a wide range of people throughout the day, whereas the Valley, which is a much larger and less formal space, tends to attract dog walkers, early morning and mid afternoon, and, in general, young groups of people on summer lunchtimes and early evenings.

The numbers of young people relaxing on the Valley last year was considerable and good to see.

The rather “gloomy” nature of lockdown was relieved on a couple of occasions!

First of all by a group of Sandyford drummers using the Valley as an open-air practice venue and by a piper filling Little Dene Park with a few beautiful Scottish laments in late October.

The drumming may not be to everyone’s taste but the piper’s selection of tunes went down well with park users!

The piper was actually part of a celebration for a Little Dene resident! “Food for thought!”

With schools closed for long periods in 2020 and lockdown imposing restrictions on socialising, it was inevitable that some problems would occur when young people arranged to meet in outdoor locations.

The Little Moor, the edge of the Valley (next to the seat) and later the Little Dene, all became places where large numbers were frequently congregating.

Over a 3-4 month spell last summer the police received 47 complaints of anti-social behaviour in these locations in High West Jesmond. It became a hot-spot in the Northumbria Police area.

Over most of the summer the main implications for FOVALD of this activity were litter and disturbance to nearby residents.

With fairly regular intervention by the police, most of the daily litter was left next to litter bins.

However, with the seat on Lodore Road being so close to family houses, it became really difficult to prevent daily disturbance, from mid-afternoon to late evening.

Therefore, after consulting residents & Councillors it was decided to temporarily remove the seat, which we did in early August. Since its removal there has been no congregating & no disturbance to residents.

The attraction of the Valley, and its secluded spots, to the young people did result in some damage to one of the lime trees and eventually lead to them discovering the Little Dene.

There is an area in the middle of the Dene that is very secluded and this became another regular meeting place. Somehow a large sofa was manhandled in.

Whilst the vegetation was very badly trampled and the stream filled in at one spot to enable easy access to their meeting place, on the plus side, they did remove most of their litter. We unblocked the stream & removed the sofa in October.

It’s been very rare that, as a local organisation, we have had to report mis-use! There were two examples last year.

Graffiti was sprayed onto the main Little Dene Park path and onto one of the seats in November. Both were removed within 24 hours and, so far, no repeat has been experienced.

Also in autumn, a large volume of household items were dumped among the shrubbery in Little Dene Park. Thanks to David B for quickly sorting & disposing of the waste and to Cornelia for removing the paint from the seat.

Management & Maintenance

2020 was the third full year that the Lending a Hand Tuesday morning maintenance team has been operating.

In adjusting to the lockdown restrictions, members worked either individually or in pairs (whilst keeping socially distanced!). This practice is ongoing.

Although some new perennials & bi-annuals were introduced into Little Dene Park in spring (thanks to Rosalind H & Frank S for donating foxgloves & salvias!), much of the time during the summer was spent pruning, litter picking and responding to cases of misuse.

We did manage to obtain a commitment from the City Council’s Footpath Officer that finance to renew the park’s footpaths would be included as a priority in the 2020-21 budget. However, the impact of COVID 19 completely changed the City’s priorities.

We will need to pursue this as COVID-19 subsides, because the paths have deteriorated even further during this wet winter.

A bright spot last summer was the renovation of the Beecham seat, assisted by our group and paid for by the Beecham family. It means that all 4 park seats are now in excellent condition!

For several weeks in late summer, the Moorfield verges, including the entrance to the park, were hidden behind contractors’ temporary barriers as fibre cables were laid by City Fibre as part of the “super speed broadband” rollout!

Much to our surprise, when the barriers were removed, two green control boxes had been installed either side of the main path through the park. This had been done without any consultation.

After strong complaints from us and HWJRA, City Fibre agreed to relocate the boxes in more discreet locations.

That work has now been done but there remain several areas of the Moorfield verge, and the edges to the park, where the remedial work is completely unsatisfactory. We expect the company to carry out reinstatement work in the spring.

We suspect that we will have lost a good number of spring bulbs from the Moorfield verge where trenches were dug for the cables. The company has given a commitment to fund new bulbs before the autumn planting season.

The major piece of work carried each autumn by our team is, of course, leaf collection and composting. All the bagging last year was carried by a small squad of two, with David McG. shouldering the majority of the work!

120 large bags were filled and delivered to allotment customers, which generated £112 income. We receive excellent feedback regarding the quality of compost.

However, the work involved is time consuming and we think we need to find a more efficient delivery method for this year’s round.

Despite the limitations of lockdown, our Lending a Hand sessions managed to provide almost 50% more leaves than the previous autumn.

So, well done to those involved. Thanks to David B for creating an extra compost bay!

Wildlife

Our plan to put more focus on wildlife during 2020 was knocked of course! We feel that we have probably lost ground in our plans to strengthen the ecological value of the surrounds to the Valley & Little Dene Park and to the Little Dene itself.

Several of the wildlife refuges were disturbed or partially dismantled and, over the summer, large swathes of the Little Dene’s natural vegetation were regularly trampled over a 2-3 month period.

We received no reports of fox or hedgehog sightings last year and the only sighting of the “usual” sparrow hawk was early in the year.

Although bird boxes were not checked, it is assumed that the trees, shrubs & bushes, as well as the stream, continue to provide a good range of opportunities for feeding, nesting & roosting.

The last bird survey in 2016 indicated that there were at least 28 species present. Either 2021 or 2022 may be a good time to request another survey.

A range of butterflies were observed on the Valley but we made no progress with regard to identifying the types and number of bats.

2021-22

Our priorities in 2020 were:

1) to improve the footpaths in Little Dene Park;

2) provide notice boards on the Valley & in the park;

3) strengthen the wildlife corridor;

4) create a hedgehog friendly zone between the Valley and Rectory Road.

What a year! Sadly, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic we made no progress on any of these objectives, indeed the footpaths are probably worse and the wildlife corridor may have regressed.

Therefore, it is suggested that these two objectives, i.e. improving the Little Dene footpaths and repairing & strengthening the wildlife corridor should be our primary objectives for the coming 12-24 months, with the notice board and hedgehog friendly zone more secondary objectives.

Committee of Friends of the Valley and Little Dene
March 2021

Read more: You can read more about the work of FOVALD and see a plan of the Valley, Little Dene and Little Dene Park on the FOVALD page.

Treeworks on Moorfield/ Little Moor Allotments

Urban Green Newcastle is to carry out works to several trees along Moorfield.

Urban Green Newcastle is the body that manages public parks and allotments in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The work will involve four salix (willow) trees as well as prunus:

  • two Willows will be removed as the lower cavities are showing disease;
  • two Willows will be cut down to a height of around 8 to 10 feet, below the limbs to allow new growth to develop; and
  • the Prunus at the main gate (to the Little Moor Allotments) will only be lifted off the highway and a few limbs inside the allotments removed.

HWJRA engagement with Allotment Officer

High West Jesmond Residents Association (HWJRA) has engaged with the allotments officer and we have been informed that he will be looking at replacement trees later in the year.

Letter from Urban Green Newcastle

Please see below a letter from Mark Todd (the allotments officer at Urban Green Newcastle) advising of the need to remove/cut back some trees on Moorfield with work scheduled for next week:

Read the 3 March 2021 letter from Urban Green Newcastle here.

Overnight curfew introduced on e-scooter trial

Changes to Newcastle’s e-scooter trial have been introduced in response to initial feedback.

The following news release was issued by Newcastle City Council:

Newcastle City Council, in partnership with operator Neuron Mobility, are putting in place the new measures, which includes an overnight curfew on e-scooter use.

Since launching earlier in February, the trial has been overwhelmingly popular, with more than 5,000 people completing over 30,000 miles worth of journeys with hundreds of these NHS and other key workers. The vast majority of people have behaved safely and responsibly. However as with any new trial there has been a small proportion of people not following the rules and Neuron and the city council have been keen to adapt the programme quickly to address this.

The laws governing their use include anyone wanting to hire a scooter must hold a provisional or full driving licence and comply with the highway code.

Steps already taken to improve the integration of the e-scooters in the city have included the introduction of a city-wide curfew between 11pm and 5am throughout the duration of the lockdown in the city to ensure that journeys are limited to essential trips in working hours. 

Since introducing the curfew on Thursday 25 February, it has had an immediate impact, with reports of irresponsible riding significantly reduced. In addition, geofenced slow zones and no-go zones, and no-parking zones are being reviewed based on feedback and will be implemented continually during the trial.

Cllr Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality at Newcastle City Council said: “We are listening to feedback from the police and local communities and are working closely with Neuron to quickly address issues where they arise.

“We have to remember that this trial is not even two weeks old, but despite that we’ve been able to use the data and feedback to make some changes already. This includes a response to some instances of e-scooters being used inappropriately and in some cases users have been banned from the service.

“E-scooters are a form of transport, currently for essential journeys only while lockdown restrictions are in place, and this trial is looking at whether they might offer a safe and environmentally-friendly alternative to travelling by car.

“It’s vital that people use the e-scooters properly and in line with the riding rules that all users agree to when they sign up. The consequences of not doing so are potentially very serious.”

George Symes, UK Expansion Manager at Neuron said: “We’re really encouraged by the overall reaction since launching in Newcastle, especially with the really strong uptake of the e-scooters from NHS and other key workers, hundreds of whom have signed up for free passes to help them get to work in a way that’s socially distanced. 

“In the first weeks of any new trial it’s key to evaluate how e-scooters are being used then quickly adapt to iron out any problems and make the service better. We are working closely with Newcastle City Council to address some of the initial feedback we’ve received from important groups in the city.  Since introducing the 11pm – 5am curfew we’ve already seen a significant drop in the number of reported incidents and we’ll keep adapting the service further to make sure e-scooters are integrated into Newcastle in the best, and safest, possible way.”

Northumbria Police are also urging riders to act responsibly, warning people risk being prosecuted and losing their driving licences and being banned from the roads if they fail to abide by the law.

The call comes after reports relating to their inappropriate use and a small number of people having been charged with driving while over the legal alcohol limit.

Chief Inspector Alan Pitchford, from Northumbria Police, said:It is important that riders act responsibly, abide by the law and ultimately don’t put themselves or others in danger.

“Unfortunately, there have been instances where it has been necessary for officers to intervene and take action.

“We would ask all users to follow the rules and laws in place, which are there for the safety of everyone, and that they fully understand the potential consequences of not doing so. 

“We would also like to take this opportunity to remind people that under the current Government Covid-19 restrictions people should only be making essential journeys.”

Jo Bullock, executive head of awareness and education at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), which is partnering with Neuron on a safety course for e-scooter riders, said: “We see micromobility as an important part of the transport mix going forwards, and we launched our partnership with Neuron because of the company’s core focus on safety. We are pleased to see that Neuron is taking steps to make the trial in Newcastle a success.
 
“Ultimately, it is every rider’s responsibility to ride safely and follow the rules. All riders should make sure they look out for their own safety and also the safety of others. Don’t ride under the influence of alcohol, only one person should ride an e-scooter at a time, stay aware, and always wear a helmet.”

Important Riding Rules and Safety Guidelines:

  • Riders must be 18 years old and above
  • Must have provisional or full driving license
  • No riding on pavements
  • Helmets should be worn, every Neuron e-scooter has one
  • Be aware and remove earphones
  • One rider per e-scooter
  • Keep a safe distance from pedestrians
  • Do not ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Keep both hands on the handlebars
  • Park responsibly and don’t cause an obstruction

Further information regarding the safe and responsible use of e-scooters can be found at https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/our-city/transport-improvements/transport-… 

The above news story was issued by Newcastle City Council and is available to read on the Newcastle City Council website. It has been included here for information and does not necessarily represent the views of High West Jesmond Residents’ Association. 

Bridge closure consultation period ends soon

The six-month public consultation closes on 15 February 2021.

Bridges closed included nearby Stoneyhurst Bridge, Castle Farm Road, Salters Bridge and Haldane Bridge.

The following news release was issued by Newcastle City Council:

Newcastle City Council closed five local bridges to vehicles in August as part of its response to the pandemic in order to aid social distancing as well as meeting the demand from residents for better walking and cycling facilities.

The bridges include:

  • Salters Bridge, Parklands ward
  • Castle Farm Road, Dene and South Gosforth
  • Haldane Bridge, South Jesmond
  • Argyle Street Bridge, Ouseburn
  • Stoneyhurst Bridge, Dene and South Gosforth

To date, over 9,000 comments have been made, with Salters Bridge in Gosforth generating the most comments.

All bridges are key routes for people walking or cycling to local schools or amenities but enable traffic to cut through residential streets rather than using more appropriate routes.

By closing the routes to unnecessary traffic, the council re-allocated the road space for people walking and cycling, creating safer, cleaner, and greener neighbourhoods.

Cllr Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality said: “This programme of closures is more than just stopping traffic from cutting through local streets, it’s about all the environmental, safety, health and wellbeing improvements that come with it.

“By making small changes to our infrastructure, we can make big changes in how people move around their local area – whether it’s walking more to increase your daily steps, reducing your carbon footprint, getting to school safely, or just enjoying fresh air in your local neighbourhood as part of your daily exercise.

“People who need to drive on local journeys, can still drive, but there are more safe options for people who want to walk or cycle more.

“We will closely review all of the comments received alongside data we’ve been collecting, as well as feedback from statutory consultees which include emergency services, so please ensure you have your say.”

The consultation closes on 15 February.

The bridge closures will remain in place while the council conducts a review of the public consultation, as well as considering other factors such as traffic levels on surrounding streets, air quality, traffic speeds, how many people have been using the bridges for walking and cycling, air quality where monitors are in place, responses to the legal orders and feedback from statutory consultees, including blue light services, before making a final decision within the coming months.

People are invited to have their say at https://safenewcastlebridges.commonplace.is/ by 15 February 2021.

The above news story was issued by Newcastle City Council and is available to read on the Newcastle City Council website. It has been included here for information and does not necessarily represent the views of High West Jesmond Residents’ Association. 

Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save lives

Information available

For the latest information from the NHS and the UK Government please visit:

NHS – nhs.uk/coronavirus

GOV – gov.uk/coronavirus

Statement issued

A statement has been issued from the leaders of the LA7 local authorities, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, and the North of Tyne Mayor.

The following news release was issued by Newcastle City Council:

“The Prime Minister has rightly imposed a national lockdown in England, meaning we must all now stay at home except for essential reasons.

“It was vital decisive action was taken to regain control of infection rates that have been soaring across the nation, including in our own region, in recent weeks.

“We know this will come as a disappointment to our communities who have already given so much during the pandemic, but it was a step the Government simply had to take.

“We are all too aware of the mental and physical difficulties a lockdown brings, with people unable to see loved ones or do most of the activities they enjoy doing, and none of us wish to see schools closed.

“But the health of residents is the absolute priority for all of us, and we are now in a position where we can take action, prevent the NHS from becoming completely overwhelmed, and save lives.

“The regulations are clear. Stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. You can go to work if you cannot do so from home; you can shop for essentials; you can exercise; seek medical attention; escape domestic abuse; attend educational and childcare settings for those eligible; and a few other exceptional circumstances.

“Otherwise, staying at home and avoiding all contact with those outside your household or support bubble will deny this virus the opportunity to spread further. This is key if we are to prevent countless more deaths while the vaccination programme continues in earnest.

“We have argued for more support for local businesses and this morning’s announcement from the Chancellor regarding grants is welcome. But some businesses have fallen through the gaps since March, and still need additional support. We will monitor what other support our communities and businesses require.”

“Similarly, there will be many out there who require support once again during this lockdown, and we will continue to provide welfare support as we have throughout the pandemic. We will also work with the Government to ensure the necessary equipment is available to children for online learning and support our communities wherever possible.

“Hope is, however, on the horizon. Unlike when we first entered lockdown in March, we now have a weapon to fight back. The Government has set out timescales for quickly vaccinating the most vulnerable, as well as health and social care workers, and we sincerely hope this will permit the return of some freedoms when the time is right. We will be working closely with our colleagues in the NHS to support the rollout but for now, we have to play our part while the virus continues to spread.

“Please, stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives. Thank You.”

Cllr Simon Henig, CBE, Leader, Durham County Council  
Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader, Gateshead Council  
Cllr Nick Forbes, CBE, Leader, Newcastle City Council  
Norma Redfearn CBE, Elected Mayor, North Tyneside Council  
Cllr Glen Sanderson, Leader, Northumberland County Council  
Cllr Tracey Dixon, Leader, South Tyneside Council  
Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader, Sunderland City Council  
Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne Mayor  
Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner  

The above news story was issued by Newcastle City Council and is available to read on the Newcastle City Council website. It has been included here for information and does not necessarily represent the views of High West Jesmond Residents’ Association. 

Prime Minister announces national lockdown

The Prime Minister has announced a national lockdown and instructed people to stay at home to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.

The decision follows a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country, and our hospitals are now under more pressure than they have been at any other point throughout the pandemic.

This drastic jump in cases has been attributed to the new variant of COVID-19, which our scientists have now confirmed is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible.

On 4 January, there were 26,626 Covid patients in hospital in England, an increase of over 30% in one week, and the April 2020 hospital admissions peak has now been surpassed by 40%.

The case rate in England up to 29 December was 478.5 per 100k, three times higher than on 1 December when the case rate was 151.3.

On 3 Jan, 454 deaths were reported, with 4,228 over the last 7 days – a 24% increase on the previous 7 days.

This afternoon, the four UK Chief Medical Officers have advised that the COVID threat level should move from level four to level five, indicating that if action is not taken NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days.

The Prime Minister praised everyone’s collective efforts to get this virus under control, emphasising the great national effort to fight Covid. Despite this, the pressure on our NHS, rapidly rising infection rates and hospital admissions due to the new variant mean that another national lockdown is sadly necessary.

From tomorrow, people will only be allowed to leave their homes for the following reasons:

  • shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person.
  • go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home.
  • exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.
  • meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one.
  • seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse).
  • attend education or childcare – for those eligible.

From tomorrow, all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning, except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children. While children are still very unlikely to be severely affected by COVID-19, the government recognises that schools must be included in the restrictions in order to have the best chance of getting the virus under control as schools can act as vectors of transmission, causing the virus to spread between households when rates are high.

Schools will be required to provide remote education for those learning at home.

Early years settings such as nurseries, alternative provision and special schools will remain open and vulnerable children and children of critical workers can continue to use registered childcare, childminders and other childcare activities.

The government is also advising the clinically extremely vulnerable to begin shielding again, and letters will be sent to individuals with advice on what this means for them.

All non-essential retail, hospitality and personal care services must close, or remain closed. Restaurants can continue delivery, takeaway or click-and-collect of food and non-alcoholic drinks, but venues will no longer be able to serve takeaway or click-and-collect alcohol.

Essential shops and garden centres can remain open. Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos must close, but the outdoor areas of venues such as heritage homes and botanical gardens can remain open, to be used for exercise. Playgrounds may also remain open.

Places of worship can also remain open, but you may only visit with your household.

Indoor and outdoor sports facilities including sports courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools, and riding arenas must also close. Elite sport and disabled sport can continue, as can PE lessons for those children attending school.

The restrictions will come into effect tomorrow, and are expected to last until the middle of February if the situation in hospitals improve. By this point, the NHS hopes to have vaccinated everyone in the top four priority groups identified by the JCVI – including older care home residents and staff, everyone over 70, all frontline NHS and care staff and all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Vaccinating the most vulnerable will protect those at highest risk from COVID-19 and this will remove a significant amount of the pressure currently facing the NHS.

Based on the latest available data, the UK has vaccinated more people than the rest of Europe combined and we will continue to accelerate our vaccination programme at pace.

Everyone should follow the new rules from now, and they will become law from 00.01 on Wednesday. Parliament will sit, largely remotely, on Wednesday to debate and vote on the measures.

The full details on what you can and cannot do are available here.

The above statement was issued by the government and can be read on the gov.uk website.