The nature reserve land where Ridgehill operates was previously owned by the Council, but the boating lake was not taken care of and was not open to the public. After conversations with the Council about the importance of rejuvenating the land and giving the local community access to an outdoor activity centre, Ridgehill started the process to become lease holder for the area. Several months later, Ridgehill secured the lease and started restoring the facilities and regenerating the area. This involved setting up infrastructure to allow for water sports on the lakes, restocking the area with fish to allow local anglers to use the area, and maintaining the park area to create a space suitable for families.
Ridgehill accessed the Community Business Fund programme in 2019 and used the grant to purchase equipment (such as water sports equipment), maintain buildings and train staff. Power to Change also supported Ridge Hill with business development, by giving them access to tailored support from an Advisor. All of this contributed to scaling up the business.
“It’s got where it is now mainly because of the Power to Change grant. It changed the business from a small local community boating lake to an actual water sports centre. Being able to purchase paddle boarding equipment and new boats significantly changed its journey,” said Karen Rees Unwin, Managing Director at Ridgehill.
The majority of the local estate around Ridgehill is social housing, and many residents have low-income jobs. While Ridgehill aims to benefit the whole community, and offers activities at affordable prices, it has been challenging to attract local families to the centre – even more so during the Covid pandemic. Families have seemed reluctant to try new activities like paddle boarding, and it can also be difficult for single parents or large families to come to the centre, especially with younger children. Since Covid restrictions have eased however, working with local schools and colleges has proved successful to bring children and young people to the centre, and they are usually very enthusiastic about going there. Building on this, Ridgehill is considering organising pick-up for children and young people from a local bus stop, or offering childcare, to increase participation.
Karen said: “From the young people’s point of view, they are very engaged. We also have scout groups come regularly and they all love it.”
Ridgehill also employs local residents on casual contracts and gives many in the community an opportunity to volunteer at the centre. While casual labour can be challenging for a community business to manage, such employment and volunteering opportunities also build experience and opportunities in the local community. “For volunteers, it’s brilliant. We have a gentleman who has been able to use his skills from his previous jobs and it and he finds purpose in coming. We have a volunteer who lives all on his own, and it gets him out of the house. […] We all know each other, so it’s made us all good friends.”
Because of the Covid pandemic, some of the grants that Ridgehill had applied to were put on hold, and they managed to access emergency Covid support from the Government in the meantime. Going forward, building more sustainable sources of income is a priority for Ridgehill to continue strengthening the community business. For instance, they want to engage more local businesses in activities at the centre, build partnerships with more colleges locally (and potentially with colleges in Manchester too), and set up a holiday club at the lake.
 Local Trust was established in 2012 to deliver Big Local, a National Lottery Community Fund-funded programme which committed £1m each to 150 neighbourhoods across England. The funding awarded to each Big Local area was provided on the basis that it can be spent over 10-15 years at the communities’ own chosen pace, and on their own plans and priorities. Further information can be found here: About Big Local – Local Trust