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Ground Control in partnership with Morgan Sindall Infrastructure (MSI) is connecting communities along the Northumberland Line. Initially contracted for vegetation clearance, Ground Control proposed social value by donating materials left-over from the de-vegetation, to local schools and communities along the rail corridor.

Project overview

As part of the reinstatement of the former Ashington, Bluth, and Tyne line, now called The Northumberland Line, Ground Control was contracted by MSI (Morgan Sindall Infrastructure) to manage the vegetation along the railway line. 

With a mutual commitment to sustainability and social value, Ground Control recognised an opportunity to give back to society by donating materials left over from the works to schools and communities along the rail corridor. This involved engaging with the schools and communities to understand how to best add value to their outdoor spaces and create a legacy from the monumental rail reinstatement works.

The Public Service (Social Value) Act (2012) requires local authorities to consider how the services they commission and procure can improve economic, social, and environmental wellbeing.

Local authorities responsible for procuring goods and services, in this case, Northumberland County Council, have a duty to ensure the best value and the most ethical approach. This includes connecting with the local communities and being fair to the UK’s small businesses, voluntary and community sector organisations, and social enterprises. At MSI this is evidenced by the community engagement work and the partnerships forged with local supply chains like Ground Control, the VCSE sectors, and the wider community (source: Reemer J. Bailey, MSI). 

Scope of works

Ground Control shares the ethics and values of MSI and is a proud partner and contributor to the positive impact of the Northumberland railway line project that began with de-vegetation.

  • De-vegetation
    Early in 2022, MSI contracted Ground Control to clear the vegetation to make way for the plant machinery to start the preparatory access works for the main construction. This involved the expertise of Ground Control's mechanical arboriculture and rail services divisions.
  • Repurposing waste
    Amongst the waste materials produced from the de-vegetation were many tonnes of wood chips, logs, and the occasional tyre. Ground Control contractor James Jameson, was keen to find ways to re-use (divert) these leftover materials.

Adding value by engaging with communities

James visited the local schools to assess the possible areas of support. These visits helped Ground Control and other MSI contractors learn about the types of students they serve and the potential to add value to their outdoor spaces. 

James Jameson Ground Control, assesses possible support for local school
James Jameson from Ground Control assesses possible support for Josephine Butler Campus of schools in Ashington, Northumberland

The teams from Ground Control, MSl, and other local supply chain contractors worked together to ensure all logistics were expertly carried out. 

Ground Control also joined a 'team' day with Nottinghamshire County Council, MSI and other partners to enhance pathways, add definition to areas that looked in need of some TLC, give spaces a faces lift and most of all build positive relationships.

Staff teams from Ground Control, MSI and Northumberland County Council for a 'team' day in Northumberland
Image: Staff and teams from Ground Control, MSI, and Northumberland County Council come together for a 'team' day in Northumberland

Cooperation of this nature builds social capital by blurring the lines between large and small to medium commercial companies and local people.

The results

Five schools along the rail corridor benefitted from the additional resources.

Pupils helping distribute woodchips
The schools were extremely excited to receive the wood chippings and other re-cycled items, which not only saved them money but became the subject for many subsequent projects. For example, a pupil from The Dales School for children with special educational needs spent the afternoon helping to distribute the wood chips (pictured left). 

Teams from Ground Control, with MSI and Seaton Sluice School, satisfied faces all around after a successful ‘drop off’ of chippings

When asked for their opinion about the work carried out for them, the schools said how impressed they all were. The perception held about ‘big business is often that there is little heart or humanity.

This perception dissolved very quickly when both Ground Control and MSI went the extra mile to help the schools with environmental enhancements. The teams felt they’d done something special too.

Ground Control and MSI contractors with Andrew from Seaton Sluice School.

Ground Control and MSI contractors with Andrew from Seaton Sluice School. Satisfied faces all round after a successful 'drop off' of chippings.

Sally and Dale from the Dales School, Northumberland commented: 

Thank you so much for all the work you all did. Honestly, it has
been amazing. Members of staff have commented how beautiful
the garden is looking and that they can now see the children,
instead of searching through the dense forest! Ground Control amazed us all and has made such a difference to the trees… 

The legacy

The connections made through the work in the school have piqued the interest of local young people.

The idea has now evolved into the establishment of a ‘friends of’ – scheme to continue the maintenance of some of the school's outdoor classrooms.

It is precisely this kind of intended outcome that builds social capital.

The four pillars of social capital are:

  • a civic network,
  • norms of reciprocity,
  • institutional trust,
  • stranger trust.

Adding value: Bedlington investigations - supporting local history

Ground Control's de-vegetation teams were also poignant in clearing the way for a local archeological investigation of the historical Bedlinton Tunnel at the Blyth River.

Local people had commented that they believed an ancient wagon way existed long before
the railway was established in the 1800s. The problem was that a key piece of evidence was
hidden.

Much to the delight of local people, Ground Control cleared the area in preparation for scrapings to be taken and analysed by the archaeological teams.

Before and after images of the Bedlington tunnel

The next stage is to test the walls and ceiling of the tunnel for the existence of coal dust.

Ground Control de-vegetation services

Find out more about the services and related services used for this project, via the links below:

Ground Control services to education, rail sectors, and local communities

Find out about Ground Control's sustainability agenda and services to the rail and education sectors, via the links below:

Thank you to Reemer J. Bailey MSI Community Engagement Advisor, for providing the source material for this study.  View original source, here.

Ground Control in partnership with Morgan Sindall Infrastructure (MSI) is connecting communities along the Northumberland Line. Initially contracted for vegetation clearance, Ground Control proposed social value by donating materials left-over from the de-vegetation, to local schools and communities along the rail corridor.
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