Ambitious £20 million bid to Government’s Levelling Up Fund by Forest of Dean

Photo shows: Gloucestershire College's Forest of Dean campus, opened in 2019
Glos College Forest of Dean Campus

Details have been released for the bid for £20 million to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund being pulled together by Forest of Dean District Council, Hartpury University and Hartpury College and Cinderford Town Council.

If successful the bid would aim 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.

Tim Gwilliam, Leader of Forest of Dean District Council, said, “If successful this funding would be a huge boost to the area bringing new opportunities and helping us improve lives across our district.

“The three linked projects in this bid are incredibly exciting and would build connections across the Forest, provide new jobs and new education opportunities, encourage cohesive communities and help people stay active and healthy through great new sports and leisure facilities.

“We want to raise aspirations, support ambition and provide new opportunities to help build a better future for people across the Forest, especially our young people.

“We believe this proposal will do that and we are working very hard with our partners to put together the best possible bid and hopefully bring this vital funding to the Forest.”

The bid package will consist of a £9 million investment at the Five Acres site, bringing new leisure and sports facilities and flexible community space to the area including a satellite facility for Hartpury University and Hartpury College. There is also a new £10 million University Innovation, Careers and Enterprise Learning Centre at Hartpury University and Hartpury College and an £880,000 building refurbishment programme in Cinderford town centre.

Something’s moving in The Forest…. and it’s good

The proposal for the Five Acres site is to create a new leisure and community hub that would bring the derelict site back into use providing modern leisure, community and business facilities for the area and an artificial all weather sports pitch. It would also include a satellite site for Hartpury University and Hartpury College, bringing new education opportunities for young people to the Forest.

The flagship University Innovation, Careers and Enterprise Learning Centre, which would be built on the current Hartpury University and Hartpury College site, would support the growth in student numbers, providing new opportunities to over 16’s in the Forest. The Centre would focus on encouraging and supporting local young people to stay in education or start their own business in the area. It would also deliver a new Environmental Laboratory which would aim to spearhead new companies focussed on environmental technology based in the Forest of Dean.

In Cinderford the proposal includes the regeneration of a number of key buildings across the town centre, bringing them back into use to provide modern co-working spaces for start-up businesses and a new community facility, providing great spaces for residents to live, work and socialise.

Across all three sites there is a focus on reaching net-zero carbon through the installation of electric vehicle and bike charging points, the use of solar power and by encouraging sustainable travel.

It is anticipated that the combined bid would bring over 30 new jobs to the area and provide the facilities needed for new businesses to grow in the Forest, bringing with them additional jobs and opportunities for local residents.

Russell Marchant, Vice-Chancellor, Principal & CEO Hartpury University and Hartpury College, said “We’re absolutely delighted to be part of this Levelling Up Bid with Forest of Dean District Council, Cinderford Town Council and Mark Harper MP.

“This exciting bid is about delivering jobs, improving facilities, and raising the aspirations and improving the opportunities for young people in the Forest of Dean through a green and sustainable project.

“We plan to create a world-class centre for innovation, careers and enterprise at Hartpury University and Hartpury College to help cultivate an educational and entrepreneurial pathway for young people, which will be particularly important post-Covid.

“We look forward to working directly with the Five Acres leisure hub to strengthen and grow our relationship with the local community and alongside our bid partners to help increase opportunities and support ambition.”

Cllr Chris Brown of Cinderford Town Council said “Future proofing our town centres is essential to their survival. The pandemic has shown that many of us no longer need to leave our beautiful district daily to work, learn and socialise. Our proposals will boost local employment and innovation whilst providing the platform for us to grow and showcase the enormous talent on our doorstep.”

The bid has been supported by the Forest of Dean’s local MP, Rt Hon Mark Harper MP, who said; “I’m backing this bid, assembled by the District Council working with Hartpury University and Hartpury College along with Cinderford Town Council, as it has the right ambitions and has support from many of our area’s key stakeholders.

“I have an important role in this process to help make the case to Ministers at Westminster in order to secure the investment we all want to see, and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

“This is a valuable opportunity to build upon the investment we have already seen in the Forest of Dean in recent years – from the state of the art Gloucestershire College campus in Cinderford, that I worked hard to get the money for, to Hartpury’s Agri-Tech initiative and Cinderford’s AccXel Construction Skills Accelerator Centre due to open soon.

“Getting this large package of investment would be a fantastic opportunity to increase skills, jobs and opportunities for everyone in the Forest of Dean and that’s why I’m giving this bid my full support.”

The bid proposal will be taken to the Forest of Dean District Council Cabinet before it is submitted on the 18 June deadline set by the Government. Government are expected to make decisions on the funding in Autumn 2021.