Anglers and residents living next to a neglected pond which attracted fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour have worked with their local council to turn it into an attractive and thriving fishing club in an initiative that echoes the government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda.
Masons Pool, a flooded clay pit surrounded by houses, became a magnet for vandals and rubbish-dumping after it fell into disrepair, forcing Walsall Council to close it off to keep it safe.
Now, following a pilot project working with the council’s Green Spaces team, the fishermen and residents have taken over management of the site and established the Heathfield Lane Fishing Club.
The turnaround in fortunes was achieved after Walsall Partnership brought in Habanero business consulting to take an independent look at resolving social problems the eyesore was creating.
The council earmarked Heathfield Lane West for action after data collected for the newly launched Area Partnership, a new system of neighbourhood management involving public, private, voluntary and community agencies, showed it to be a hotspot.
Paul Lindley-Cox, Director of Business Transformation for Habanero, said the total cost of securing the site, police and fire service call-outs, time spent by youth outreach workers and other agencies over three years was around £1.2 million.
"But the situation wasn’t getting any better. Vandals just kept breaking down the gates and causing mayhem and people in the area were frightened," he said.
All sorts of rubbish was dumped in and around the pool, from a sofa to television sets and shopping trolleys.
"So rather than trying and failing to keep people out we decided we should invite people in," said Paul. "By engaging with the local community they have taken control of their own destiny."
A major clean-up has restored it to its former glory and the fishing club now boasts a growing membership with members aged from nine to 82.
Kerry Wilkinson, resident and club secretary, said: "Anti-social behaviour was happening on a daily basis with children as young as ten smoking and drinking. But since we’ve taken it over we’ve reduced this to zero. We have a set of rules and a zero tolerance policy to bad behaviour.
"It’s rewarding and fills us with pride to see children enjoying the fishing. We have 18 juniors in the club and 35 adults with numbers growing."
The residents also sit on a working group, along with anglers, Walsall Green Spaces and the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust, who will use their expertise to improve the nature conservation of the area.
The council has called in the Environment Agency to help further release the site’s potential with plans for it to be included as a conservation project for school visits.
Habanero has continued its involvement by sponsoring a fishing competition at Masons Pool, which is stocked with roach, rudd, bream, tench, carp and pike and is open to the public as well as club members.
Councillor Mike Bird, chair of Walsall Partnership and leader of the council, said: "This is excellent news and shows how much better we can go when we can harness the power of residents and their council coming together.
"If the big society is about one thing it’s about residents standing up for change and the council helping them and giving them the tools.
"To go from nine to 82 members for the fishing club speaks volumes."
Clive Wright, Director of Walsall Partnership said: "Habanero helped us change the way we think and approach problems at work. By seeing things from the perspective of residents we produced much better results, increased customer satisfaction and saved significant costs. These skills will be important as we face public sector cuts".
Masons Pool - AFTER