Thurrock network is strengthening community ties and building local wealth.
Lightship Cafe, Grays
Andy Blakey was fuming when he saw the news. It was 2012, and the Guardian had written an article in which his hometown of Thurrock was referred to as “a cesspit” and “the country’s capital of misery”. “That really angered me,” he remembers. “Because it’s not true, it’s absolutely not true.”
About that time, he had noticed the council and other community groups looking at Thurrock and beginning to see what was missing. Blakey, who was leading a nearby church, joined a Big Local partnership, a Lottery-funded, community based project, and worked with other members of the partnership to establish priorities for the area.
Grays Riverside set up Soup events, where local entrepreneurs can pitch for community investment, invested some money to get single parents back into work in the area, and supported the local School for Social Enterprise.
Some of the most visible work has been supporting the Lightship Cafe, a cafe in a park on the estuary, known as Grays Beach. The cafe was run by the council until 2016. Blakey stepped in to run it with a church group through the winter. After the Big Local partnership formed, they were able to negotiate a three-year lease at a peppercorn rent starting from May 2017, offering the residents a chance for proper investment in the facilities to build a sustainable business for the long term.
The cafe has supported young people to get qualifications in catering. It also provides space for the Big Local partnership to launch other projects, like a translation service, to make sure leaflets about local activities are reaching all parts of the area’s diverse community.
“The cafe brings adults together through the kids,” Sandra Valentine, a partnership member, told Local Trust in 2018. “It sounds small but it spreads.”
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