Life in Politics column by Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West: Heroes working to boost communities
According to the number crunchers, New Wortley is one of the most deprived areas of Leeds. Like so many parts of our city, it has suffered terribly under this Government.
The cruel austerity programme has meant huge cuts to public services across Leeds. New Wortley has been hit as badly as anywhere. Just west of the city centre, some people may only know New Wortley as the place they drive past when navigating the Armley Gyratory.
However, behind the scenes there is a great success story going on in New Wortley that can be a valuable lesson to other areas across Leeds.
Thanks to the fantastic efforts of dedicated volunteers and staff, work is under way to transform the neighbourhood and dramatically improve people’s lives.
Work is nearly finished on improving the New Wortley community centre and renovating a new play area for youngsters. The centre is now well on track to be exactly the kind of community hub that every neighbourhood needs.
A new housing association has been set up and there is a real chance of sustainable and good quality homes for local people being built in the next 18 months.
Plans are also under way to work with the NHS to deliver innovative support services for people with mental health issues, while the Gateway to New Wortley project is making steps towards improving green spaces and public areas for those living nearby. Many of these initiatives are down to the tireless work of community leader Bill Graham and his team. Just like the community-led effort that I was proud to champion which saw Bramley Baths returned to its former glory, these projects have helped restore hope and empowered people to speak up and improve their area. New Wortley still faces many significant challenges – a situation worsened by the Tory government’s cuts that has seen Leeds City Council stripped of £239 million of core government funding since 2010. At a time when there is increased pressure on services, particularly on social care and providing help for vulnerable children, the council has an impossible task when it comes to meeting everyone’s needs.
It is a similar story regarding the efforts of the police to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour that is a problem in so many communities.
The Government has imposed a further cut to the budget of West Yorkshire Police of more than £9 million in real terms. That is on top of massive budget cuts of around a third since 2010 which has already seen the loss of more 2,000 police jobs. The Government should be on the side of local communities, not undermining them with cuts that make the efforts of those doing great work so much harder.
However, despite this bleak backdrop of Government cuts, the changes in New Wortley are remarkable and should be celebrated. The hard work put in by Bill, the staff and volunteers has created a more confident, happier community that can look forward to the future with some optimism.
Bill is moving on this autumn after almost 10 years of service and commitment to BARCA, Bramley Baths and the New Worley Community Association.We need more community champions like him – not just in New Wortley, but across the city and the rest of the country.
It is thanks to the brilliant work of people like Bill that our neighbourhoods can be changed for the better to improve lives and opportunities for everyone.
It would be good to see the Government back heroes like Bill and the local team rather than make their task harder.