An ambitious project to fight back against massive budget cuts across Blackpool will be launched today.
Community leaders are bidding to hit back against massive town hall cuts by harnessing volunteers who will be offered incentives to give up their time for free.
Blackpool Council has had to slash £25m from its budget this year, and £631,000 from the parks budget over the last three years, drastically reducing resources for work including grass-cutting and maintenance of open spaces.
Today a scheme will be launched in one part of the town to plug the gap by urging people to sign up as volunteers in return for rewards such as free tickets to some of the resort’s attractions.
The Clifton Community Volunteers Club is the brainchild of Clifton councillors Luke Taylor and Adrian Hutton, and will initially just cover their ward.
They have signed up businesses including Blackpool Tower, the Sandcastle, Blackpool Model Village, Ascent Trampoline Park and Blackpool Zoo to supply free tickets as part of the reward scheme.
Volunteers will carry out tasks including gardening, painting and skill swap workshops. They will be issued with a volunteering ‘passport’ and will collect a stamp for every session they complete.
Rewards will be given for every four stamps collected, with up to 12 stamps available in each passport.
Coun Taylor said: “We decided to launch the club following on from issues raised by residents about grass cutting in Blackpool. The scheme is not just about carrying out tasks that the council is struggling to afford due to governmental cuts.
“It’s also about getting residents out of their houses and socialising in a positive way, tackling social isolation and helping those not in work to keep busy. Hopefully that will help address mental health issues as well.”
While grass cutting at cemeteries, Stanley Park and the Promenade is being prioritised by the council, many grass verges and open spaces have been left to go back to nature, leaving local people and community groups frustrated.
The first volunteering session will be supported by Blackpool Council parks department and the Community Action Team, with work being done at the BMX track, tennis courts and bowling green on Mereside.
The council will provide protective equipment and training and volunteers will only be able to take part in sessions after full inductions before each task.
Risk assessments and work plans will also be followed.
Coun Taylor added the idea was not to replace council jobs with free labour.
He said: “The council has had to make some really tough decisions on what to spend its money on, and this is a reaction to what has happened. It’s definitely not a method of replacing jobs, I wouldn’t want to do that at all.”
If the scheme is a success, it could be widened to other parts of Blackpool.
Coun Taylor added: “The initiative has the potential to become Blackpool-wide, however as a councillor for Clifton ward I would like to get it off the ground here first.
“I would be more than happy to share best experiences to develop a model for Blackpool after success in Clifton ward.”
The initiative will be launched today at the Boys and Girls on Bowness Avenue, Mereside, when people can sign up between 10am and 3pm.
l For more information go to www.communityvolunteersclub.org/