When Alder Grange School in Rossendale was selected to establish an £8 million sixth form by the Government the project soon ran into potential problems. The expansion of the school came under threat because of a ‘no’ campaign from objectors led by local residents, the Civic Trust and county councillors. The objectors were well organised and had used the consultation meetings to gain media coverage to highlight their concerns. As well as taking their case to the newspapers they were also actively lobbying against the scheme. Their aim was to block the plans. We were asked by the school to help during the planning process for the new building.
The aim was to help counter some of the negative publicity, ensure the main need for the Sixth Form was reinforced and ultimately ensure there was a positive outcome when the application for the sixth form building came before the planning committee.
Local opposition from residents centred on the traffic and parking issues the currently exist near to the school. The focus of their argument was that they feared that the situation would be made worse by the new building and extra pupils it would attract. The original plans had been significantly amended not only to manage any additional traffic and parking issues but to alleviate to the greatest possible extent many existing difficulties, especially those which cause so much concern at the beginning and end of the school day.
On the positive side the school was getting good indications from planning and highways officials as it submitted reworked schemes.
Our aim was to shift the focus of debate back from the traffic issues to the students and on to the positive benefits to the community that the Sixth Form would bring. In order to ensure this worked we decided that our main speaker at the planning meeting would be one of the pupils who — should the plans be approved would be among the first intake at the Sixth Form. We worked with her ahead of the planning meeting to ensure that her pitch to the councillors was confident, clear and contained the right mix of messages.
We are enormously impressed by the quality of the work done by Viva. At all times the staff have been highly professional, respecting sensitive or confidential situations, and have given a highly effective service. Their advice has proved to be 'bang on the money' every time, for example by advising the school to take pre-emptive action which resulted in turning potentially negative press interest into a very positive news item. Of course, the effectiveness of any campaign is in delivery of its outcomes. The planning decision was carried unanimously in our favour, with no significant planning conditions attached. This would not have been possible without the work of Viva. The school and its' pupils are immensely grateful to Viva for their work.
David Hampson, Head of School
Alder Grange Community & Technology School