I must confess that Community Centre Week has completely missed by radar until now. However, three weeks ago, 19 to 25 July, was designated this handle and, for the third year in a row, community centres across our islands were invited to celebrate their contribution to community life.
And why not? A thriving community centre has a buzz, it provides activities and a social fabric for all ages, it brings folk who would otherwise be socially isolated as well as young misfits who might otherwise be elsewhere causing havoc.
It is where formative minds learn that singing, dancing, martial arts and more can be fun and rewarding and adopt activities to be pursued for years and where those in the twilight years turn for more sedate activities to keep their minds active and refocus their lives on fresh purpose.
The oldest community centres have seen different generations of parents bring their infants to watch a magician and eat jelly in celebration of a birthday and passing generations of the widowed elderly gather for company and be fed by volunteers on Christmas Day.
Last year, the national network of community-led organisations, Locality, published a short summary of the history of ‘the community centre’ and included a definition coined between the wars:
“A Community Centre may be defined as a building which (1) serves a community organized in an association which is responsible for the management of the building; and (2) provides facilities for the development of the recreational, cultural and personal welfare of members of that community; and (3) constitutes a meeting place for voluntary organizations or other groups in the community which need accommodation.”
and remaining as relevant today.
The Community Centre is at the heart of the social fabric of neighbourhood life. It deserves to be celebrated. It performs a vital function and deserves to be supported. Here at SUSTAiN, we have been involved in supporting a number of projects to breathe new life into or to improve future sustainability of or find help with vital repairs to or for ambitious expansion of community centres in recent years.
There are a number of success stories where we are proud to have helped to choose and secure funding solutions and identified and drawn in private sector volunteer support when it has been needed.
Most of all, we encourage everyone to recognise the importance of robust, sustainable, community run centres in the heart of our neighbourhoods and to think about getting involved. Many are struggling, dependent on too few volunteers to keep the doors open and fabric maintained.
Such volunteers, though, go home with a warmth in their hearts because of the difference that they make – because their centre is there.