Forest of Dean – Economic aspirations are ahead of the game

17 November 2021

Partnership for Levelling Up bid ensures the local economy and aspirational facilities will provide a place for young people to thrive.

The Forest of Dean has secured levelling up funding to facilitate town centre regeneration, development of local skills & talent and a hub for leisure, culture and small business.

The strong feeling is that the regeneration project will act as a catalyst for further investment into the district, aiming to create experiences that will increase enterprise, footfall to the towns and more jobs.

The Forest was identified in the Levelling Up Fund portfolio as a level 1 district deemed in most need of investment. The Forest of Dean District Council, Hartpury University and College and Cinderford Town Council joined forces to successfully secure £20 million from the Government’s fund which will be used to breathe life, vision and opportunity into some of the districts key sites including the old Five Acres Leisure facility in Coleford, Hartpury’s educational campus and Cinderford Town Centre.

The bid was very much a collaborative approach with the partners working hard together to put together a successful bid. This bid comprised of three major projects which identified sites in need of investment and gaps in the skills, talent and enterprise offering in the Forest.

The Forest of Dean spans 203sq miles and is a unique geographical, historical and cultural region. Strategically placed as a gateway between England and Wales, the Forest has a rich and vibrant ecological landscape with 42sq miles of woodland. Historically, industry centred around forestry, coal mining and iron working and later a strong manufacturing presence but the demise of various industries has left some legacy of unemployment and limited further education and developmental skills for the 16plus demographic.

However, the community is enviably strong with a vibrant business enterprise who have a strong sense of identify which has seen some considerable inward investment and some game changing innovative businesses borne out of the Forest. The Forest has a strong legacy in the building and manufacturing sectors with high growth businesses such as Versarien and KW Bell having firm roots in the region, creating a large number of job opportunities for the local population.

This sense of community and identity has helped foster the partnership formed to prepare the bid. The group were well aware of what was needed to infuse investment and provide aspirational facilities that would nurture the younger population, providing them with a reason to stay local, develop their talent and eventually create or join local enterprises.

The £9 million project at Five Acres will allow Forest of Dean District Council to redevelop the old further education and leisure centre site. Nicknamed ‘The Curve’ the first phase will comprise of a community leisure and enterprise hub including all weather sport pitches, state of the art gym facilities, a satellite site for Hartpury University & College; The Aspiration Academy; will bring specialist education opportunities for young people in the community.  There will also be electrical charging hubs for vehicles and bikes to encourage sustainable travel to the site.

Hartpury University and College will also have its own dedicated Innovation, Careers and Enterprise Learning Centre on its own campus. The £10 million project aims to support local young people to remain in education and also foster their entrepreneurial skills. The motivation is that there will be an increase in business start-ups for the area.

This key site will help drive specialism into the heart of the Forest and will complement the Gloucestershire College campus and also the emerging Construction Education Centre; AccXel; both in Cinderford.

Regenerating Cinderford town centre is the third project; awarded £880k; a number of key buildings including the Methodist church, former HSBC bank and Rheola House will become essentially a social enterprise hub with community, enterprise and creative arts spaces and will include a café and strong links to the Growth Hub network.

The overall aim of the bid is to improve leisure and community facilities, introduce new further and higher education opportunities, repurpose vacant buildings and grow the local economy across the Forest. Retaining young, local talent in the area is a key driver for the bid partners. The overall bid also committed to reach net zero carbon through electric charging points at the sites and the use of solar power.

Councillor Tim Gwilliam, Leader of Forest of Dean District Council, said: “This funding will make a real difference to our community. It will improve education opportunities, improve leisure and sporting facilities and help to grow our local economy. We want to continually be improving the Forest of Dean District and helping to raise aspirations and this investment will play a key role. This bid was only made possible from the different organisations involved; the District Council, Hartpury University and College, and Cinderford Town Council, coming together for the benefit of our community.”

David Owen, GFirst LEP said: “GFirst LEP were proud to have been part of the successful working group that won the funding and we’re delighted that it has been given the green light. The creation of these vital facilities and tools to foster innovation, community strength and develop local talent is vitally important for the local economy and the impressive focus on the project to reach net zero carbon through the installation of electric vehicle and bike charging points, the use of solar power and by encouraging sustainable travel is also commendable.”

The vision for the Forest’s thriving and sustainable economy is further supported through the Forest Economic Partnership, a Community Interest Company with the vision of making the Forest of Dean a vibrant and thriving place to live, work and do business. Furthermore, the newly opened impressive Growth Hub at Vantage Point will further enhance the business and enterprise support elements and provide a wonderful base for new and up and coming businesses.

Work will shortly commence at Five Acres with demolition and clearance works and the further two sites are busy with planning and project management priorities.  It is estimated the projects will create 30 new jobs.

The GFirst LEP Inward Investment team is an ERDF funded project who work in partnership with the Forest of Dean District and aims to facilitate investment, innovation and growth to the region, find out more here

  • The remodelled HSBC building in Cinderford

    The remodelled HSBC building in Cinderford

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