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Community Centre update February 2010

St Werburghs Community Centre, formerly a Victorian primary school has been operating on this site since 1973. During that time the Centre has passed through many hands, local authority reorganisations and different administrations but with the St Werburghs Community Association (SWCA) continuing to support its progress. Finally, in 1999 SWCA took over the management of the building from its owners Bristol City Council and in order to progress its aims registered as a charity and company. I was appointed as Centre Director in 1999. The centre rapidly became one of the most well used community venues in the inner city hosting and running a wide range of community activities, and offering office and workshop space to several voluntary groups.

It was during this time that SWCA started to explore options to acquire the building on a more secure basis as a community owned asset. However, it had become clear that the poor condition and limited accommodation were a very real barrier to planning for the future. SWCA were offered a lease by Bristol City Council but the terms were restricting and short term. It felt safer then to continue to seek other avenues, particularly as the Asset Transfer agenda was becoming well known. The Quirk review provided us with a real opportunity to consider our future, and of course, there would be a pilot programme of funding. We continued to work towards establishing a good case for St Werburghs Centre to apply for this funding. We used Pro Help, who called in favours, talked, persuaded, raised funds and consulted our communities. Our £1m plan included a refurbishment of the original building, and a new annex to be constructed in what had been the old school playground. This would provide the community with an excellent resource, and allow SWCA to build towards a more sustainable future.

Our partner, Bristol City Council, supported our plans fully, replacing the roof and windows, increasing its revenue support in the short term, and agreeing to a lease on very favourable terms. One of the key components in our progress has been our appointment of GSS Architecture to project manage and provide all of the expertise that is necessary on a large building project. They have worked with us throughout, undertaking the planning application and providing essential cost to support our application on a Pro Help basis.

Work on site started early September last year and is due to be completed late in April this year. We are 23 weeks into the build and refurbishment – it has been a challenging time. We continued to be open to the community until January, despite the dirt, noise and disruption. Our community kept on using the building, shivering with us – the boiler was taken out in September, and wiping dust from all surfaces.

Delays caused by unforeseen problems meant that we moved out of the building into portakabins on site during January, and our users were asked to take a break while contractors used our absence to catch up. Staff moved back into part of the building on February 1st – followed shortly by our community groups. Space is limited, there is still no heating but we now have some refurbished rooms. The Annex has taken shape, and in contrast to the ‘old’ red brick building the exterior is clad in bold blue stripes and will boast a ‘green’ roof and a large photovoltaic panel. Inside it has underfloor heating and high spec access facilities. The refurbished building is gradually emerging from the rubble with a new kitchen, new toilets and floors.

We have been involved in a world of site meetings, technical discussions, and problem solving. As Centre Director I have learnt about the world of construction, VAT, liaised with our lottery officer, managed lottery payments and claims - and how to work wearing several layers, a thick coat and gloves. Our caretakers have continued to offer a service to our users. Alison our part time Finance Coordinator has provided all of her usual financial information, and prepared our annual accounts. Goska, our Assistant Manager has managed the shifting of equipment, bookings and projects, liaising with users, working on new website and managing the film production for the ATU website, and all of the other things that are essential to our success – while wearing several layers and gloves, and a smile.

This project has been led by SWCA a group of committed volunteers, who together with a small staff team are managing the transformation, and securing the future of, a much needed inner city resource. We hope that we can encourage other community led groups to aim high.

Linda Bell

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