Nature reserve reborn thanks to new housing

17 July 2015

Eight acres of beautiful wildlife habitat have been reborn thanks to investment generated through a new social housing development.

Overgrown and largely inaccessible for 25 years due to a lack of funds, the nature reserve at Seaton Burn College (equivalent in size to five football pitches) has now been transformed by the college, social landlord Isos Housing and their partners into a space the whole community can use and enjoy.

Around 20 tonnes of rubbish and fly-tipping have been removed, and 200 new trees/hedging plants have been planted, with the Groundwork NE charity leading the charge alongside students from Newcastle College.

A new ‘dipping platform’, wooden boardwalks, an outdoor classroom and some stunning artwork by local artist Neil Canavan have all been added to the nature reserve – all aimed at encouraging college students and the local community to enjoy the wildlife to be found on their doorstep.

Yesterday BBC Look North weatherman Paul Mooney officially opened the nature reserve, while North Tyneside elected mayor Norma Redfearn joined Isos chair Jackie Axelby to open the new homes.

Children from the college got the chance to explore the new facilities, and find out about the wildlife to be found on the site.

This includes at least 30 different species of bird, as well as deer, foxes and a badger.

As part of the regeneration work, the site now boasts six beehives which are home to over 400,000 bees. According to the beekeeper Dave Douglass they are flourishing and performing better than his hives on a farm in rural Northumberland. He expects them to provide 100 jars of Seaton Burn Honey this year.

College deputy principal Dave Cookson has led the regeneration project on the nature reserve, working alongside a large collection of partners with Lea Smith and Lewis Rimington from Isos helping to manage the project.

Mr Cookson said:

“When I first brought Lea and Lewis from Isos into the nature reserve, it was a boggy, over grown mess, but they could see the potential, and they trusted my judgement. Now you can see the results.

“The plan is that we will have over 1,000 children here over the next academic year, and we will be open to the community from September too, so local people have somewhere to spend their recreation time.”

Mr Cookson said he was delighted Seaton Burn College now had the facilities to get children close to nature. He quoted George Monbiot, who wrote recently: “I would like to see every school take its pupils one afternoon per week, to run wild in the woods.”

Mr Mooney said: “I’ve lived in the North East 18 years now, and one vital thing which I love here is that nature is always just round the corner.

“There are so many people who will get great use out of this reserve, all year round as the seasons evolve, with sunshine, then autumn leaves, then frost clinging to the branches. I would like to congratulate everyone involved in the project.”

Isos chair Jackie Axelby, opening The Farmstead, said: “This development is a wonderful example of our approach at Isos, that when we design a new scheme, we don’t just see it as housing, but it’s about homes and the community, with the facilities that a community needs.”

Norma Redfearn, elected mayor of North Tyneside, said: “We have really good partnerships with Isos, and we know you provide quality accommodation. I’ve had my breath taken away by the quality of this scheme – and it’s also because you don’t just provide housing, you give much more.”

The new facilities in the nature reserve include:

  • A new outdoor classroom created from a shipping container.
  • New paths laid around the site, including sections of boardwalk over boggy ground.
  • A new dipping platform constructed and lowered into the pond on the site, to enable local children to explore the wildlife.
  • A green woodwork area.
  • A Forest School area, which includes seating, a fire pit and a covered area for rainy days.
  • A stunning carved entrance sign, designed by local artist Neil Canavan.
  • Artwork around the outdoor classroom, including a beautiful gabion wall, also by Neil Canavan.
  • A new sculptural table and seating.
  • New bird feeders.

The nature reserve project has been developed according to a detailed masterplan for the site, which will see Isos remain involved for the long term, to help the college apply for more funding and develop the site further.

  • The paths have been edged in timber taken from the site and the majority of woodchip has come from on-site material.
  • All of the bird boxes have been built by students at the college.
  • Six beehives on site contain over 400,000 bees.
  • At least 30 different species of bird have been identified on site as well as deer, fox and badger.
  • The main pond has been surveyed by Newcastle University and shows a high level of biodiversity.
  • A booking has already been taken for the John Muir Trust to train 15 teachers in the nature reserve this September.

The Farmstead affordable homes

The new ‘Farmstead’ development of 20 affordable homes was the catalyst for Isos to begin working with the college.

The development boasts a collection of family homes, bungalows and smaller apartments, to cater for all sections of the community.

The homes have been designed around a courtyard garden, and the scheme also boasts its own play facilities for younger children – replacing an outdated facility which previously stood on the site.

The scheme has recently been shortlisted for the National Housing Awards 2015 in the Small Development category.

Valerie Spitty, 68, has moved into one of the bungalows at The Farmstead with husband Tom, also 68. They previously lived in a house in High Farm, Wallsend with a downstairs bathroom.

She said:

“We just love our new home, it’s beautiful. We are both disabled, and it was getting bad with the stairs in our old house. It’s so much better here, everything is easily accessed.

“Our grand kids love to come here, and we’ve done the little bedroom for them.”

Jack Foalle, 21, is a PE teacher, and has moved into The Farmstead with his partner Emily, 19, and daughter Lily, two. They are expecting their second child.

He said: “We are the youngest family on the street, but we’ve been able to merge in really well. There are children the same age as Lily, as well as older people in the bungalows.

“The street is really nice and the house is just perfect the way it is.”

Partners involved in the Seaton Burn College nature reserve renovation:

  • Seaton Burn College, led by deputy principal Dave Cookson, with pupils from Years 9 and 10.
  • Groundwork North East.
  • Isos Housing – funding and staff volunteering time.
  • Turney Wylde – working as part of the ‘Love your Community’ scheme.
  • NB Clark – building contractor.
  • Artist Neil Canavan.
  • Beekeeper Dave Douglass.
  • Newcastle College, students with learning disabilities who have contributed to the work on improving accessibility.
  • University of Newcastle.
  • Friends of the Earth.
  • The Woodland Trust.
  • Local primary schools – all feeder schools for SBC.

Partners involved in The Farmstead:

  • HCA – grant funding of £300,000.
  • Turney Wylde – main contractor.
  • Halsall Lloyd – architects.
  • 3E – consulting engineers.
  • Elliotts Associates.