The History of Newton Community Centre
During 1983 it became more and more apparent that the church hall that the Earlestown Opportunity Group was using for their meetings was inadequate. Members of the group then began searching for a suitable venue. Consequently, Margaret Catterall, the then leader of the Opportunity Group, pinpointed this building, the Old Wargrave School. It was felt to be ideal for conversion into a base for the group. Contact was made with the owners of the building, Legh Estates, who agreed to lease the building to the group on a peppercorn rent, which is free.
However, the governing body of the group, the then St Helens and District Handicapped Children’s Trust, felt it was unrealistic for the group to have a building solely for their own use. They advised that contact be made with voluntary groups and statutory agencies in Newton, to establish what interest there was for a building that would be available for the whole of the community.
Subsequently, the Opportunity Group held a public meeting in March 1984, with approximately 70 people attending. From this meeting a Steering Committee was formed which included representatives from MENCAP, the Opportunity Group, Churches, CAB, the Health Authority and interested individuals. The Steering Committee at this stage approached Merseyside Improved Houses (Community Projects Advisory Service) in order that the necessary estimates and plans for the conversion could be drawn up. Local participation was the key to our structure with lay people working alongside professionals at each stage of the project.
Also during this time, the Steering Committee approached the Children’s Society to request its support in the form of a worker. The Children’s Society agreed to this. However, they stressed that the worker would not be one who would sit on the floor to play with children but would assist the community to achieve its aims of providing a Centre that would benefit the children and their families of the area.
The Steering Committee agreed to this proposal and insisted that the worker be a local person. The worker, Rita Ward, took up position in 1984. The Steering Committee recognised that the attachment of a worker to the project proved to be invaluable. The role played was one of getting the disparate individuals and groups together, co-ordinating volunteers and assisting in setting the agenda and priorities for the Association. The worker was able to retain an overview and spur the Committee on when the question “Will we ever make it?” loomed in the backs of peoples’ minds.
In October 1984 another public meeting was held where the constitution was presented and accepted. The group was now formally entitled “The Newton-le-Willows Family and Community Association” and application was made to the Charities Commission to become a registered charity. This was achieved in January 1985.
In 1986 the conversion of the building was estimated at £64,000. This later increased. The Steering Committee began the tasks of fund-raising, discussing the plans and requirements for the Centre and drawing up a constitution that would govern the management of the Centre and the interests of the community.
The original estimate for conversion increased to £74,000 because the building had been very badly vandalised. Lead and tiles had been stolen from the roof, the heating system had been either smashed or stolen and the toilet block had been virtually raised to the ground by vandals.
The lease was secured, monies attracted from fund giving bodies and the Management Committee, rallied round offering their labour, skills and expertise subsequently reducing conversion costs to £52,000.
Members of the Management Committee gave their time freely, replaced timbers, plastered walls, tiled toilets and laid floors. It is impossible to imagine the conditions that people worked in (old and young alike) and the hours that people worked.
As the intentions for the old school became known, new people offered their labour. They were invited onto the Management Committee, thus acknowledging their commitment and encouraging their involvement in the decisions that were necessary on a project of this nature.
It was necessary to raise extra money that had not been accounted for, for internal/external security systems fencing around the Centre to allow a completely safe external play area.
An Urban Aid Application caused much deliberation for the Committee, as a decision had to be made – the money for a Centre Co-ordinator’s salary or the money to complete the building works. The Committee was so confident of successfully raising funding for conversion costs that a Centre Co-ordinator’s salary was decided upon.
This was to provide continuity, consistency and support within the Centre regarding development, volunteers, user groups, lettings and information exchange. This has proved a wise and sensible decision, because as time has evolved the Co-ordinator’s role has grown and is vital to the smooth running and development of the Centre. A Centre Administrator was also appointed at this time. The role was necessary to develop and maintain and efficient and effective administrative base for Community Centre business.
The Centre opened its doors to the first groups in May 1987 with many of the original groups involved becoming user groups. At this point also the Management Committee took off its overalls and changed its role considerably.
The Management Committee recognised that it was not acceptable to rest on its laurels and agreed to review where it had come from and where it should be going. It also recognised that in 1991 the Urban Aid, would expire – if continued financial support was expected, then the Association would have to prove that the facilities they were providing were relevant (given the resources in terms of finances and staff that were available). With the expiry of Urban Aid a secondment agreement was made with St Helens MBC who agreed to provide a full time Centre Co-ordinator. Unfortunately, this post was deleted in a Council departmental restructure in March 1999. The Association then became the employer of the Centre Co-ordinator.
As time evolved the Management Committee continued to consider very carefully, in consultation with the Centre users and non-users, the services and facilities it had responsibility for. With this in mind and as the Centre was often bursting at the seams, the Management Committee commissioned a feasibility study in 1995 that proved that an extension was needed. Numerous applications were made to secure funding for this project and as a result the building of an extension was completed in November 1997.
This extension has enabled the Association to continue to respond to the needs of the local community and meet the demands for use.
Consequently, as the Centre became busier still, the Management Committee identified the need for another full time worker – Office Administrator (2003) and the following part-time posts:- Children’s Activities Co-ordinator, Volunteer Recruitment Co-ordinator, Children’s Activities Planner (2007/8). Funding for these posts were initially awarded from Nationwide Foundation, Lloyds TSB and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
In 2011 a funding application to the Big Lottery Fund was successful. This funding will enable the Centre to continue to provide opportunities for people to access and improve the quality of their lives.
Family members of the original Management Committee and other volunteers are involved within various aspects of the Centre e.g. Management Committee, staffing the Centre during the evenings and at weekends (without the support of paid workers). They are also involved in the organisation of the Association run groups.
Many of our young volunteers have “grown up” within the Centre and assist in the running of
Club 4-2-6 and the Summer Playscheme – activities they attended as a child. Volunteers also staff the coffee bar that has not only proved a valuable resource and a local focal meeting point, but a source of income
The Management Committee, which is still made up of local people who offer their time freely, continues to identify and respond to the needs of the community, as our diverse programme of activities and services demonstrates.
We are extremely proud of the commitment, dedication and teamwork between volunteers and staff who all contribute to help us achieve our aims. Consequently, we have received numerous awards from various borough wide organistions in recognition of the service we provide.
In December 2013 the original Centre Co-ordinator Anne Keen retired after 23 years. We had a party to celebrate all Anne had done for the Centre and thanked her for her dedication, hard work and commitment. In January 2014 we welcomed Jane Pike our new Centre Co-ordinator. She has 18 years Local Authority background and has been working in the Voluntary and Community sector for the past 10 years. Jane brings a vast amount of knowledge and experience. Subsequently, the Centre continues to go from strength to strength and is now running at almost full capacity.