The past year has been an interesting and challenging one for OARA, seeking to consolidate and build on past achievements as well as finding new ways to protect and improve our neighbourhood. Membership continues to grow steadily and, although numbers fluctuate because of people moving in and out of the area, there are currently 120 members and more people have become involved in a range of activities.
In this report we have summarised the progress we have made with the plans we set out last year, as well as covering new developments. The reports below all come under our Common Ground umbrella, the initiative we launched in late 2014 to encourage all those who have a stake in the area to work together to improve the area we share and live in.
We have made reasonable headway on the communications front, helping to raise our profile in the community, get our messages across and involve more people in what we do.
- The completely revamped website and new Facebook page have both provided a visually attractive and informative means to let people know about OARA. Thank you to Matt and Ruth for their skill and time in organising these.
- The new student leaflet, which was delivered in October to every student household we could identify, offered a welcome to students as well as encouraging them to be good neighbours. We were able to make personal contact with a number of households who responded positively to this initiative.
- A new display board has gone down well at various events, giving a quick snapshot of our aims and a visual record of the cleaning, greening and history teams in action as well as successful social events. It has helped explain “who are these people?” to puzzled passers-by!
- We are in the process of contacting all estate and letting agents with our Common Ground leaflet, encouraging them to adopt the Common Ground Charter and explaining why the Outer Avenue is a proper community for people, including families and others seeking a long-term home, to live in.
COMMUNITY LINKS AND LIAISON
We have been building up links with different parts of our community, as we set out to do.
- We worked with SUSU, the Southampton University Students’ Union, to support their end of year re-cycling scheme for students and also worked with them on the ‘Meet Your Neighbours’ street party on October 4th. We are also looking for support from them regarding noisy student parties.
- Three major social events took place this year: the ‘Big Lunch’ street party in June, the ‘Meet Your Neighbours’ party in October, and the OARA Christmas party in early December. All of the events were very successful, with the Christmas party raising £70 for the Greening Group.
- There were two well-organised PACT meetings held by the neighbourhood policing team at
Bevois Town School which helped set police priorities for our area. We also have an on-going dialogue with our team over immediate local policing concerns.
- We have been promised a notice-board by the Council at the Alma Road planters.
- We liaise regularly with our ward councillors to seek their advice and support and have called on their services and advice a number of times during the year. A recent meeting between some of the OARA committee and Cllrs. Rayment and Burke has resulted in useful contacts being made with senior council officers responsible for Planning, Environmental Health (which also covers anti-social noise), Parks & Street Cleansing and Waste & Sustainablity. We will be meeting with them to raise residents’ concerns and hope to invite one or more to future OARA meetings.
- We have maintained links with one of the large student landlords and are still working to bring others on board.
- We have had good support from ‘Blue Door’ Estate Agents who are offering their facilities for meetings and for an art exhibition we hope to run in April. We have also built links with the new micro-pub which is opening in Portswood Road. Avenue St. Andrews Church has worked well with us, supporting our street parties with tables and chairs. One of us will be representing OARA on their community management group. A local business has supported the production of our history calendars.
The Greening Group has continued regular sessions throughout the year, including sometimes in the rain! The resulting displays have brightened up the area, making it look more attractive and cared for, and earned some really appreciative comments from residents and passers-by.
- As put forward in our plans last year we have continued to maintain the existing planters and half barrels, with the petunias being especially colourful this year. We are currently contacting people with a view to plant more flowering cherry trees in the area. This becomes more difficult as many interested parties already have a tree and many of the houses are in transient multiple occupancy. But every little helps and there are now 42 OARA cherry trees and 14 barrels around the area.
- We have been very lucky to have been the recipients of one of the Waitrose Green tokens events. This has been important for our finances and has especially helped in our project to clear and plant the verge along Clifford Dibben Mews. Thanks go to Tim Knapp who installed the wooden backing to the verge to protect the damp proof course of the adjacent house wall. The planting is finally completed and we will see how well the plants and bulbs grow over the coming seasons. Thank you also to the Council who, when asked, came up with a pile of wood chip mulch.
- We have held two Tabletop Sales, raising a further £283.58 for greening group activities, a plant swap and a red and white plant-in for St George’s Day.
- We now have a water butt at no 14 Gordon Ave which will make watering the now flourishing flowerbed in the adjacent cut much easier in the summer months. Thanks to the Student-No-Fee landlord who agreed to supply and install it.
If you would like to help with our gardening we have 1 or 2 hour sessions the first Monday and third Friday afternoons of each month.
HISTORY AND HERITAGE
Last year we planned a number of activities and are pleased to report that all but one have taken place.
- We held a successful cemetery walk in early July in partnership with the Friends of
Southampton Old Cemetery, finding many links with past residents of our area.
- We set up a visit to the city art archives to look at the work of the Artists of Bevois Mount.
- We produced the 2016 Bevois Mount History Calendar, with 200 sold to date and others distributed to
places such as local care homes and supportive businesses to raise the profile of the area and OARA.
- We produced and sold postcards of our area through the years.
- We weren’t able to hold the Edwardian picnic in the summer but we did have a stall at an arts event at St. Denys Church to share our research and local history.
In addition we have been building up a following on social media and our website. We have 58 Twitter followers, 353 Facebook likes and 4,300 unique visitors to our main history site. Our Facebook page sees people reconnecting and reminiscing. We share posts, have our posts shared and receive support from other local history groups on Facebook.
We have continued to be vigilant and active with regard to planning matters: monitoring planning applications as we are informed of them; alerting members to applications causing concern and providing information to help with responses; meeting with the Planning Officer to learn more about Council policy and make clear our concerns and attending the Planning Panel.
The really noticeable trends are to squeeze more people into existing HMOs and a rush to build more student dedicated accommodation, usually without associated parking provision. People may have noticed work taking place on the Sainsbury site. This is for Post grads and overseas students, some 300 or so of them. Lowman’s bakery site has been granted planning permission to erect two buildings (one 5-storey glasses and white construction) and a smaller 3-storey one on the site. Both of these applications went to the Planning Panel and were opposed by ourselves and Highfield RA but permission was granted. What happened to the condition to provide affordable housing on the Sainsbury site?
The application for another tower at 14 Westwood Road after demolishing the Victorian house and 90/92 Cambridge Rd to build a five storey block of 18 flats was rejected. The objection that Cambridge Road would become the vehicular access for this development did not get the consideration we felt it deserved. The Planning Panel turned it down for other reasons especially amenity space and occupation density on the site.
We recently had a meeting with the new city Planning Officer to hear about the Council’s plans and policies and to put our strong views about planning issues which affect our area. We were encouraged by his response and will report more fully to members.
Overall the efforts of the Smart Streets team, (combined with the Greening Group) have continued to ensure that our streets are more pleasant to walk down than many in similar areas. We continue to battle the same frustrations about litter dropped, bins left on the pavement and bin overflow and contamination but it is all much better than if we didn’t bother at all.
- Regular street cleans have continued with around 20 sessions taking place last year – two a month excluding an August break and a couple of washouts.
- Some of the funds from the bin-buddy scheme are being used to purchase additional equipment.
- After the successful Gordon Avenue bin-numbering pilot we are still aiming to complete at least two more roads, including Alma. Progress has stalled because of lack of council funds but a landlord donation and OARA funds are enabling us to continue the project.
- The Bin Buddy Scheme has entered its second year, with a letter delivered personally to most of the student houses involved, explaining the scheme and what they should do to keep their bins in order. This included the offer to text them with weekly reminders about which bins to put out when and several households took up this offer. This has definitely helped reduce the number of contaminated bins and ones left on the pavement. Thank you to the OARA bin-buddies who turn out each week for bin duties. Contact was made with two other landlords but sadly with no uptake.
- We joined in with the SUSU “Shift Your Stuff “Campaign at the end of the university year, which resulted in far less clear-out rubbish on the streets in June and July.
- We have continued to work closely with Council Officers, particularly Jason Evans, the Waste and Recycling Officer, and Barry Olson, the HMO Warden, who have been proactive in tackling houses where there are issues, from bad bins to lettings boards, and also responded to OARA reports about fly-tipping and refuse/ rubbish-related problems at individual houses . They provide us with excellent support for which we are very grateful. Government cuts to local government funding continue, however, to have an impact on the services the Council can provide, for example with regard to leaf sweeping this year, which we have done more of ourselves as a result.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to OARA’s efforts to make the Outer Avenue a nicer place to live for us all. There is still plenty to keep us busy and we look forward to working together in the year ahead.