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Cheltenham Connect

‘What is the spirit of community’ was the question Wendy Ellyatt found herself asking when she moved to Cheltenham from a small fishing village in Padstow eight years ago. In a bid to recreate the village community spirit within the setting of a large town, she sent leaflets to 150 of her neighbours asking if they cared about community, and if so, would they like to chat?

Thus began Cheltenham Connect, a community initiative that has, through a whirlwind of activity, revived community spirit in south Cheltenham. Since June 2009 it has launched numerous local festivals and fairs, set up networking evenings for local business people, and developed a green charter for the area. Through its Connect my Street scheme – also called Greening the Bath Road – local people are working alongside the Highways Agency to help improve and develop a local high street, Bath Road.

The local council has been supportive of the organisation and also challenged to work in a more inclusive way with its local community. ‘It’s been a whole new learning ground for the council. It’s Big Society essentially’, says Ellyatt.

The success of Cheltenham Connect lies in its simplicity, according to Ellyatt. Four groups were established in the early days – Buy Local, Go Green, Skill Space and Community – and a basic website allowed them to get up and running quickly and draw in new members. It set itself up as an unincorporated membership association, the simplest form of organisation possible, and has a fluid non-hierarchical management structure. ‘People want to do things and be generous and help and they just need a little bit of structure to get going.’

The organisation has been awarded a number of grants but all of its work is done through local volunteers.

It’s theme for this year is happiness and events have included health and wellbeing projects such as Buddy Runners, which connects local people who want someone to run with, and a ‘Guerrilla Kindness’ campaign.

For Ellyatt Cheltenham Connect has revived the spirit of community by celebrating and connecting people and creating local relationships. She is now planning to roll out the idea in a more deprived area of Cheltenham and hopes that it can be taken up in a number of areas across the country.

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