Newcastle Countryside Project at risk over cash cutbacks
A COUNTRYSIDE project is facing closure as part of planned council cutbacks.
Spending cuts planned by Staffordshire County Council threaten the future of Newcastle Countryside Project, based at the Apedale Country Park.
Newcastle's Labour MP Paul Farrelly has warned that the project will face almost certain closure next April if the county council withdraws its £48,000 contribution.
Long-time volunteer Brian Goodfellow, from Rutherford Avenue, is dismayed by the plans.
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The 76-year-old retired British Steel worker, pictured below, has volunteered with the project for over 20 years.
He said: "I am one of the only volunteers who doesn't suffer with learning difficulties, and I am most concerned for them.
"If the project was to close down then they will have no-where else to go, and I know many of them wouldn't get out of the house."
The Newcastle Countryside Project provides conservation skills and promotes access to the local countryside.
More than 40 volunteers run conservation schemes linked to school learning programmes, as well as community activities such as guided walks, woodworking, cooking, and practical therapy.
Mr Goodfellow said: "When I first started there were three full-time employers at the scheme, but that has dwindled over time. It has gradually shrunk, but is something that shouldn't be lost to the public.
"I am worried it will just fade into the mists of time and be swallowed up by council funding cuts."
Volunteers have been told that continued funding will be cut from April 2013.
Mr Farrelly said: "I understand the county is looking to other organisations to deliver the service, but it will be very difficult for them to step in at such late notice once the biggest contributor pulls out.
"The Countryside Project has not only worked with schools and vulnerable individuals, but has been an important part of the Apedale Country Park.
"Its loss will be deeply felt, therefore, by the wider community of Newcastle and visitors to the park."
County council leader Philip Atkins wrote to Mr Goodfellow about his concerns.
He said: "The public sector is working in increasingly challenging financial times."
He also indicated that the work they have done will continue through Brighter Futures and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust on behalf of the project.
The county council was unavailable for comment.