This week is Village Halls Week (#VillageHallsWeek) a chance to spotlight, champion and celebrate the 10,000+ village halls and community hubs across England and Wales and the 100 years of service that they have provided to the communities in which they operate.
Today, we highlight the fantastic work of the Halton Community Association (HCA), which owns and manages the less formally titled, and more widely known community hub, ‘The Centre @ Halton’.
We get the heads-up on all things HCA from the Centre Manager and Trustee, Maureen Richardson. After a stint living in Australia, Maureen returned to the UK and was a registered childminder for over 20 years of her life. She subsequently worked as a Development Officer for childminding services through a central government-funded pilot project, offering training to childminders in the Morecambe area. The advent of Children’s Centres saw the childminding development funding withdrawn so Maureen dedicated herself to voluntary work.
It was at this point, in 2006, that Maureen became involved in the community group that preceded HCA. Her association with that group and HCA and selfless dedication to its growth and development culminated in Maureen being the very proud recipient in 2017 of a prestigious British Empire Medal in recognition of her voluntary and community services.
It is worth noting that there is another decorated member of the trustee body, Brian Jefferson, who received an MBE while serving in the RAF for his voluntary work with young people.
Despite these personal accolades, and never a charity to rest on its laurels, all of the trustees, staff and volunteers have continued to drive the charity forward. That hard work was recognised further when, last year, HCA received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services. That is, quite simply, outstanding achievement. Below, we find out just what makes this charity so impressive...
What is the charity’s background?
Until its formal registration as a charity in 2013, HCA had operated as a community group. Established in the 1970s, the group began building their community centre in 1978 in a former landfill site on a sports field. This was only possible through the community sponsoring bricks and local farmers and local army camp volunteers getting involved. It has been a bumpy road since then though.
In 2006, the centre was under the threat of closure. The Princes Trust provided volunteer support to build a disability access ramp after the Centre’s premises licence had lapsed and the building needed to be brought up to current disability access standards. From there, the community group management body reviewed the 2003 Parish Plan that identified what services were wanted and needed in the area and secured a £0.5m grant from the Lancashire Environment Fund, against estimated £650,000 building costs, to build a new annex on to the community centre. They had to renegotiate the centre design with architects when estimated building costs rose to £1.2m.
The strategic vision, determination and resilience of the trustee body has seen The Centre @ Halton transform from a £6 per hour one-room/badminton court in a muddy sports field to become the very centre of the village, with landscaped gardens, play areas, a skate park, a link path to the village high street and the largest village hall in the district!
What are the charity’s objects?
Broadly, the charity’s stated objects are to advance education and environmental awareness, to provide facilities for social welfare and recreation and to maintain and improve the public area surrounding the community centre. However, these objects do not accurately convey the breadth, diversity and inclusivity of the charity’s offer...
What does the charity do?
HCA has a number of core activities. From American Square Dancing to Baby, Toddler and Pre-school Groups, Gardening Clubs, a Knit & Natter Group, a Luncheon Club for Over 55s, Memory Café, Before & Afterschool clubs, Book Club, Singing Groups and Walking Football & Netball sessions. There is also a football academy catering for over 120 kids, with teams that compete in local leagues. A local church group (Valley Church) also hires the facilities in the Centre for its weekly services and events.
The Centre generates its income from a mixture of hiring its facilities to private contractors to provide classes, sessions and events and also charging directly for events that it stages, such as its Nearly New Sales, Ceilidhs and live music concerts. It also generates income from its Coffee Shop which is usually open 7 days per week. The Coffee Shop is also a great source of volunteering for young people doing their Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
Always thinking of ways they can support the local community, prevent waste and help make the Centre more sustainable, HCA also engages with the wider community and local external agencies. For example, the HCA team have collected surplus food from Carnforth Tesco since 2016 through their Fare Share Food Cloud programme. HCA then uses this food to support their Luncheon Club meals, Baby and Toddler Group sessions and Coffee Shop.
Any surplus food is displayed in the foyer as part of the Centre’s innovative and admirable ‘Take What You Need, Donate What You Can’ initiative. Money donated goes towards purchasing equipment to support the start-up of new groups.
Also part of their wider community engagement, the Centre is a hub used by local agencies, such as Child Action North West, to enable early interventions and restorative justice exercises to be implemented in the grounds of the Centre.
In addition, the Centre is the venue for local Parish Council meetings.
What is the structure of the charity?
The charity has a solid structure, strategically managed by an experienced, inclusive and passionate board of 6 trustees, all of whom were brought up or have lived in the village. The current Chair, Pete Nightingale, is a retired GP and the trustee board has a broad and diverse skill set.
One of the trustees is the son of one of the founding community group committee members and can be seen as a young lad on photographs when the group first put ‘spades in the ground’ on the original community centre back in 1978.
The trustees often recruit their own family members to get involved in DIY projects and support the trustees in running events.
There is a total of 11 committed, part-time, paid staff members, several of whom are also voluntary Parish Councillors:
Centre Manager (30 hours)
Admin Officer (2 days)
Accounts Officer (1 day)
PR Officer (0.5 days)
4 x Coffee Shop staff
All of these staff volunteer hours well in excess of their paid capacity and have been furloughed at some point during the course of the Covid19 restrictions and lockdown.
In addition, there are a staggering 100+ volunteers that regularly support the work of HCA and The Centre.
What impact has the Covid19 pandemic had on the charity?
Almost all of HCA’s specific activities that are based indoors and involve direct, face to face interaction with their beneficiaries suffered hugely, not unlike the wider charity sector as a whole.
Undeterred, and when allowed to, the Centre reorganised its building, opened a new doorway, set up a one-way system, established sanitiser stations, posted relevant signage and reinvented its Coffee Shop as a Take Away venue.
The Centre was also able, at times, to continue to offer its outdoor activities, such as the Walking Netball and Football. They also set up a support group to link volunteers with vulnerable members of the community and advertised this through a leaflet drop.
HCA’s food collection has been put on hold and the food was diverted to the local Food Bank.
HCA also took the opportunity of the lockdowns to complete the extensive refurbishment of its toilet block, using money it had raised through its own fundraising efforts and funding secured from Awards for All, Bernard Sunley Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, Lancashire Environmental Fund and Halton Lune Trust.
As part of an incredible wider community effort, the Centre was also innovatively redeployed as a hub for the production, storage and distribution of PPE equipment, scrubs and laundry bags in conjunction with the Morecambe Bay Scrubs, a voluntary community organization founded by another of the HCA volunteers, Sandra Lively, who is a recently retired midwife and member of the Coffee Shop staff. She led on this project and coordinated other volunteers to make the items and commandeered the Centre’s main hall as the collection point for hospital and GP surgery staff volunteers.
When allowed, the Centre also facilitated and operated the vital resources of Memory Café, Luncheon Club and the Lockdown Baby Café. In consultation with Lancaster City Council Environmental Health department, all of these activities were approved and authorised as vulnerable groups who have experienced life changing incidents. Stringent safety measures were put in place to enable these activities to continue, such as online bookings, time-limited attendance, social distance measures, extensive cleaning operations, signage and sanitisation practices.
All of these measures have incurred costs that the charity obviously could not have budgeted for, including making their premises Covid-safe. Fortunately, the charity’s funding partners have been very understanding. They have established lines of regular communication to ensure that HCA keeps them informed of developments and any proposals/plans to restart activities.
What are the plans for post-Covid19?
The recovery out of lockdown presents continuing challenges for the charity. Initially, there will have to be an assessment of the impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of the charity’s staff, volunteers and trustees and also monitoring the impact on the Centre’s users and beneficiaries, both in terms of the practical help that they need but also the potential impact on their mental health.
Preparing to get back to ‘business as usual’ will be a lengthy and intensive process but will not daunt this trustee body.
They are already planning on trying to take their indoor activities outdoors. This would potentially mean opening an outside toilet, social spaces and a catering kitchen. The trustees are also looking at developing crowdfunding appeals to help them generate short-term cashflow to be able to better prepare for future activities when ‘business as usual’ begins to return.
This charity has an outstanding reputation and standing in the communities that it serves. The community residents and the charity’s private and public sector partners all acknowledge and appreciate the positive impact that HCA has.
Here at Social Responsibility, we are genuinely humbled by the awesome contributions that small charities make to our local communities. We are proud to highlight the brilliant work that HCA both facilitates and undertakes at the Centre @ Halton. Check out their website Home - The Centre @ Halton (haltoncentre.org)
As part of Village Halls Week, we celebrate their work and we genuinely wish Maureen and the rest of the team at HCA all the very best in the coming months!