AN East Durham-piloted scheme that aims to combat social isolation has been recognised with a national award.
The East Durham Trust-led Cree project has been presented with a Community Learning Project Award from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).
Trust chief executive Malcolm Fallow and Alison Paterson, from Blackhall Community Centre, and Alison Nutter, from Wingate Family Centre, which both host crees, attended an awards ceremony at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London, on Monday, May 20.
The award recognises the project’s dedication to improving people’s well-being and mental health by providing safe environments that encourage both men and women to socialise and engage in learning.
The initiative was introduced to East Durham in 2011, with six initial crees set up in community venues.
Now there are 38 across the county, including more than 20 in East Durham, where there are also four women’s crees.
The crees, used by more than 200 East Durham people and based around the Australian men’s shed model to help improve health through socialising, were introduced to address the demise of traditional industries and male social isolation which have led to mental health issues.
Activities provided range from woodcraft, ceramics, gardening, arts and crafts to cooking, exercise, living on a budget, playing cards or generally just relaxing and having a chat.
Mr Fallow said: “Learning a new skill, often a practical one which can be used at home, can help the men to cope better with redundancy, alienation, divorce, and other issues.”
He added: “The award is a recognition that we have filled a gap in many people’s lives.
“This project has re-engaged people who are in danger of isolation and having mental health problems and it’s great that we have received national, external recognition as we get on with our daily work and try to help local people.”
NIACE chief executive David Hughes said he hoped the project’s “dedication, enthusiasm and vision” to help people progress will inspire others and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock hailed the scheme as “life-changing”.
The trust was one of a number of national organisations honoured.