Friday, 8 February 2013

January 2013 - Highlights for Customer Relations and Culture Portfolio

Here are the highlights of work in January 2013 in the portfolio I have responsibility for on Northumberland County Council.

Contact Centre
The Fire and Rescue Service completed its second month of delivering the Council’s ‘out of hours’ contact centre service on behalf of the Council. Although no major concerns from the public were raised, there were some issues ‘behind the scenes’, which were pro actively managed and resolved by officers from a range of departments.  This included a fault with the telephone system over two weekends (12 - 13 January and 18 - 19 January), which has now been repaired.  Investigations are taking place to determine the impact this had on performance figures for January and joint meetings are continuing to oversee the transition period.
High call volumes were experienced during January, with 31,083 calls received compared with 21,213 calls during December.  70.6% of January’s calls were answered within 20 seconds.  5.8% of calls were abandoned (the target is 5%).

Blue Badges
All completed applications were processed within the 5 working day target. 

 A total of 39 weddings took place in January compared with 43 in January 2012.    

Northumberland Tourism
Northumberland Tourism’s new website went live at the end of January. The website provides more functionality for visitors and businesses and includes strong imagery, revamped information sections and a mobile function. The aim is to enable visitors to get under the skin of Northumberland and sample the real fabric of the county by marketing experiences and opportunities in addition to its ‘honey pot’ attractions.

Sports Challenge Fund
The launch of the Sports Challenge Fund took place on 8 January. Funded by Northumberland County Council and managed by Northumberland Sport, it was established to support the delivery of 2012 Olympics legacy projects in the county linked to National Governing Bodies of Sport (NGB) priorities. 
NGBs can bid for grants of up to £3,000 to enhance the delivery of national programmes in Northumberland and raise sporting participation levels in the county.  It is aimed at, but not exclusive to, young people aged between 14 and 25 years of age. The deadline for first round applications is the 28 February.

Arts Venues
Alnwick Playhouse is increasingly successful in securing youth participation and being ‘family friendly’. It is now registered as an Arts Award Welcome Centre; has funded individual places to achieve Arts Award Advisor Bronze and Silver; and secured Bridge North East funding of £3,000 to host a Youth Network day entirely run by young people. The aim of the day is to contribute towards these young people achieving their own Arts Awards and to identify what they want from their Playhouse.

The Arts Award is a national qualification that allows young people aged 7-25 years to develop their skills as artists and arts leaders. It is a way for young people to enjoy the arts and develop creativity, communication and leadership skills through an accredited scheme. The award is highly recognised within the educational and cultural sector and seen as an important part of young people’s development.

Leisure Capital Programme
The current capital programme of improvement works will accelerate during February with a number of projects taking place simultaneously. This includes re-roofing and toilet refurbishments at Newbiggin Sports and Community Centre and windows replacement in the pool area at Ponteland Leisure Centre.

Bedlington Leisure and Gallagher Park
The Gallagher Park steering group will meet again on 6 February to start on the SITA funded project and to move on the master plan study which has recently had the balance of its £10,000 budget confirmed.

Social Media Campaigns

Our work was praised by National Market Traders Federation who were impressed by our use of social media to promote the Morpeth Market winning the Most Improved Market award in this year’s “How Green is Your Market?” competition. They said that Northumberland attracted the most online buzz of any area in the country.

Website Improvements

The councillors and democracy area of the website has been given an overhaul. This includes new content and reorganised and redesigned pages based on feedback from the service and customer testing. It’s been made much more functional as well. You can see the new look page here:


Northumberland has been shortlisted for a Golden Hedgehog Award 2013 for best public sector use of social media. This is a great opportunity to retain the national award we won last year.

Kielder Water and Forest Park and Woodhorn Museum were among the winners at the North East Tourism Awards, held on 31 January at the Sage. Other Gold Award winners included Seafield Caravan Park, The Feathers pub, Blacksmiths Cottage self-catering accommodation and Once Brewed tourist information centre. Runners up included Corbridge TIC, Ord House County Park caravan site, St Cuthbert’s House bed and breakfast, Langley Castle and Close House Hotels and The Gate Lodge and The Waiting Room self-catering accommodation.
A film, which received its world premiere in Berwick-upon-Tweed in 2011, has been nominated for the 2013 British Academy Film Awards. I Am Nasrine was first seen by audiences at the Opening Gala of the 7th Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival before screening at the Houses of Parliament in London, and at film festivals worldwide over the past sixteen months. The film also won the Best Screenplay Award at Brooklyn Film Festival.

Blyth Valley Arts & Leisure Sport Development undertook an updated Quest assessment and scored ‘excellent’ overall, which is the highest possible category. Both Sports Development services delivered by BVAL and NCL have now scored ‘excellent’ in the overall Quest Sports Development assessments.
Hexham Old Gaol achieved the new Arts Council England Accreditation Standard. The scheme sets nationally agreed standards for museums in the UK with respect to managing collections effectively for the enjoyment and benefit of all.

Summer Reading Challenge

As part of the follow-up to the Summer Reading Challenge three Northumberland schools: Grange View First, Widdrington; Tweedmouth West First and Darras Hall First were in involved in trial to do a comparison of children's reading levels between July and Autumn 2012.

The results just published showed that children who completed the Summer Reading Challenge either raised their reading level by the autumn term or maintained it from the end of the summer term.

This small study indicates that the SRC does have a beneficial effect on children's reading levels over the long summer holiday and supports schools' literacy work.

South East Northumberland Children’s Events at Libraries

Over the last two years the Library Service has worked in partnership with BVAL (Blyth Valley Arts and Leisure) to develop a range of children’s events.  During December 2012 and January 2013 four children’s events were arranged called 'Spellbound: Enchanting storybook events for young people'. Author and illustrator Liz Million explained what an illustrator does and then showed the children how to draw characters in a cartoon style.  The events held at Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth and Newbiggin attracted a total of 64 children.

Front Office Projects
Building works continue to be on schedule at both Cramlington and Amble. This includes the extension at the current ‘Your Link’ site for a children’s library.
A review of the current service opening hours, which includes a customer survey evaluation of levels of use, is currently being undertaken in advance of Cramlington re-opening in April 2013.

Portas Projects
The Newbiggin Portas Pilot has been successful in accessing RTA Legacy funds for a cycleway and pedestrian scheme to improve access and safety for cycle and foot  tourists/visitors to the town and local people. As part of this, a new cycleway “triangle” will be completed within the town linking it much more effectively to Woodhorn Museum and creating a very effective coastal “loop” into Newbiggin off the present National Cycle Route 1. This will add considerably to the local tourist offer, with the aim of attracting more people into Newbiggin’s tourist heartlands of the town centre and the new Maritime Centre.
Arts Council funding has also been secured for a Youth Arts project within an empty shop on Newbiggin High Street.

Former Northumberland Foods building, Amble
Demolition of the former Northumberland Foods factory (formerly Cheviot Foods and Jus-Rol) at Amble commenced immediately after the new year and is expected to be completed by the end of March. The buildings will be cleared leaving behind their concrete bases as the foundations for and potential roots of new developments at the site.
A study is currently underway to consider whether there is a business case for a “Hub” for the food and drink industry in Amble and throughout Northumberland.  This will particularly investigate the possibility of developing a “Made in Northumberland” Hub at the former Northumberland Foods site (although alternative locations within Amble for such a Hub are also being assessed as part of this work). 

Northumberland Libraries are Fab!

Some Positive comments about our Libraries

Here are some comments we have received at the Northumberland library service:

“I am very impressed with the research and dedication given by library staff to finding information no matter how obscure”

“The printed page is well represented, the I.T is looked upon by many as “ace” (I believe that is the term). All enquiries are answered by professional and caring staff, an efficient body of ladies and gentlemen that makes Hexham Library the treasure everyone trusts.”

“Thanks for all the help I received whilst preparing for an English Language examination which I passed. Having passed this test I can now apply to register as  a medical practitioner in England.”

“ During the snow, staff at Morpeth Library delivered books to me as I am 90 years old and was unable to get out. I had only rang to renew books I had  at home, but I was over the moon with the choice and thought it was really kind.”

“ I would like to thank you all for being so friendly and helpful towards the residents of Ponteland. For me especially your smiles and kindness mean so much more than you can imagine”.

“I would just like to thank you for the excellent session you held for the Cubs last night – they had a fantastic time and you kept them stimulated and interested. All in all a fabulous session and they are now well on their way to being awarded their book reader badge.”
“I am a regular user of this library and welcome having access to its facilities. The staff are very helpful and the recent innovations have provided welcome improvements.”
“Much impressed with new surroundings and new books, also longer opening hours”.