The Newton Stewart Initiative (NSI) came into being in 1999 after a business association joined forces with a group of parents who were looking to create a children’s playpark in town of Newton Stewart, Dumfries, and Galloway. This shared desire brought the group together and they began working on other projects. However, after a while the group became dormant as people found they did not have enough time to put into it.
The Newton Stewart Initiative was reformed in 2014 as a community organisation with charitable status in the aim to regenerate the town and involve as many people and groups as possible. The main objective for the Newton Stewart Initiative is to regenerate Newton Stewart and surrounding area through initiatives such as by developing community facilities and supporting community-led initiatives, businesses & regeneration projects, youth/arts/sports projects and any other project that benefits the community living and working in and around Newton Stewart.
The group soon oversaw the development of the Newton Stewart Centre after the council-run community centre in Newton Stewart was closed down suddenly without consultation which left groups without a place to go. It was then that the NSI decided to buy and renovate an old cabin in the area as a stopover point for the potential development of a new Community facility. The Centre was finished in 2015, slightly before Storm Frank arrived and flooded the local resource centre. The NSI invited people to use the building as a resource centre and this helped build their reputation.
Katrina Dick has been the Business Development Manager for the NSI since 2020. She was originally taken on as a part-time employee but now works full-time hours as the organisation is very busy. Kat describes this job title as a ‘loose term’ as her role consists of outreach work, helping with events, working with young people and basically everything else concerning the NSI. Kat says that a large portion of her job involves going out into the public and talking to the community. She outlines the importance of being known within the community and engaging with people face-to-face.
In addition to Kat, there are 3 other members of staff in the NSI, a youth worker, a project support worker and a cleaner. Kat manages each of these roles and ensures that they are working in relation to how the trustees would like to see the organisation progress. It is Kat’s responsibility to feed back to the trustees and keeps them up to date on the various projects that the NSI is working on.
As an organisation, the NSI are always striving to incorporate younger generations in their activity. Kat says that she often tries to get opinions from younger people in the area by casually striking up conversations with them while on her daily dog walks. She will ask them questions about certain aspects of Newton Stewart and tries to find out how they think things could be improved. Kat believes this is a more efficient way to get information from the younger generations as surveys are a little out-dated and things work better when they are done face-to-face.
The NSI are currently looking to get a couple of youth representatives onto the NSI board and feel very strongly about ensuring that young people are adequately represented. It is their hope that they can get 2 representatives to come on board as this would allow them find support in each other as it can seem like a daunting experience. Kat had been in contact with the local secondary school and has pulled together a job specification for the positions to illustrate to applicants what the NSI is expecting of them.
Kat understands the importance of succession planning within an organisation such as the NSI, she says the main thing to ensure is that “everything is ticking over, even when you’re not there.”
Before Kat joined the NSI, there was no formal succession planning in place. As a result, by the time Kat came on board she had inherited chaos. Despite policies and procedures being in place, no one remaining in the organisation knew where important files were or how to log into various systems. It was at this point that Kat decided to put succession planning in place to ensure that everyone knew what the organisation was working on and how to pick up the pieces in the event of a member of staff leaving.
As part of this succession planning, Kat sends Abbey, the NSI’s Project support worker over to the Community Shop once a week to assist Linda, NSI Vice Chair. Linda knows all about the day-to-day management of the Community Shop and Kat understands how important it is to have someone there that would be able to pick up where Linda left off if she could no longer run the shop.
In addition to this, Kat provided trustees with a lengthy report every month to discuss what has happened with the organisation in that period of time. She says that it may sound a little over the top, but it means that trustees can go back and see where the NSI is with their projects and what needs to be done. It takes Kat a couple of hours per month to compile these reports, but she says she finds it useful, not only for succession planning but also because it gives her an overview of monthly activity. She can look back at reports from last year and she has a record of everything. Kat says, “It takes a bit of time but it’s so worth it, having a bit of order.”
One of the main examples of a positive effect that involving young people has had on the NSI would be the story behind the construction of a path in Newton Stewart’s Douglas Park. Having a path in Douglas Park was a wish from local residents that would allow visitors to walk through the area without trailing through mud and grass. According to Kat, the NSI has unofficially adopted Douglas Park for their projects and so were looking for some volunteers to begin construction of the path.
They decided to try and involve some boys from the local High School aged around 14/15 who were slightly disengaged from learning. Construction began with 4 boys but eventually the number of young people involved in the project rose to 8 or 9. The first few weeks went very smoothly, with the boys ripping up large portions of grass in a short period of time.
However, about a third of the way through they hit an area of stones and dry ground. According to Kat they also experience some typical Scottish weather during construction with lots of snow, wind, rain and hail. The boys persevered however, and after 9 months of hard work the path was complete.
Now finished, the path was wide enough to be classed as ‘accessible’ and visitors to the park remarked at what a wonderful job those involved had done. Soon after, the boys were nominated for a Dumfries and Galloway Youth Award and were delighted to find out they were the overall winners. Kat says that to be able to show the wider community what the young people of Newton Stewart has achieved has been wonderful for the community as a whole. It has also had a positive effect on the NSI as they have received requests from other organisations asking if the boys can help with some of their projects or be involved in some way. Kat says this is all down to the boys sticking with the project and having a good time while making a positive change.
Youth workers were able to give the young people more of their time to discuss important issues and happenings in their lives. The young people would come at 10 in the morning on a Saturday to dig, before finishing at 12 to go to the local youth fridge, and then being encouraged to go swimming, cycling or play football. This often resulted in them being too tired to get up to any mischief as they had had such a long day.
Despite the project taking a little longer due to the involvement of young people, building the path has instilled a sense of pride in the boys who now feel quite protective of the path they have built. Kat describes at situation that occurred near the beginning of the project where a barrier that had been put up around a dip in Douglas Park had been ripped down in an act of vandalism on the Friday night.
When the boys came to dig the next morning, they were angry to see that someone had done vandalised something that they had worked hard on. This began a great conversation with the boys as they would sometimes ruin other people’s things and they now had a feeling of how that felt. Kat says that having these conversations and involving you people is key to avoiding vandalism and making sure they feel heard and are included in the process.
After completing the path, the boys are now looking for new projects to take on with the aim of winning another award. Kat has decided to leave this decision up to them but says that there is scope for them to help in building new shelters at Douglas Park. The issue is finding contractors who are willing to work with young people, but Kat doesn’t think this will present much of a problem. “There is a maturity about the boys now and they are much more knowledgeable and obliging. They are a little rough around the edges but very hard workers.” says Kat.
To learn more about the Newton Stewart Initiative please click here.