Success story in the centre of Rawmarsh

The team at Rawmarsh High Street Centre are L-R Helen Palfreeman, volunteer, Nicola Sharpe, co-ordinator, Gary Bentley, 'Activate' manager, Caroline Langston, centre development manager, Kelly Myers, centre administrator, and Tony Smallwood, facility support worker.  Picture: Liz Mockler S0855LM
The team at Rawmarsh High Street Centre are L-R Helen Palfreeman, volunteer, Nicola Sharpe, co-ordinator, Gary Bentley, 'Activate' manager, Caroline Langston, centre development manager, Kelly Myers, centre administrator, and Tony Smallwood, facility support worker. Picture: Liz Mockler S0855LM

AT a time when churches are often little in use, at Rawmarsh one has been transformed in to a true community hub - and an amazing success story.

Tots to teens, young parents, grandmas and grandads all converge on the High Street Centre throughout the week for fun, to learn new skills, to find jobs, and to meet new friends.

At a time when companies are folding by the minute due to lack of funds, the self-supporting High Street Centre is about to appoint three more staff in the New Year.

There is a real warmth when you walk through the doors of the freshly painted, pristine centre with its range of facilities.

One of these is still the Methodist church, and it holds services. But it is also a warm, characterful function or meeting room that is well used for all kinds of purposes.

The centre is leased for 25 years from the church.

There is a gleaming new kitchen. three light and modern training rooms with whiteboards and computers, and another large, inviting hall.

A further room is almost ready for a new 2012 venture - an after-school care club.

Hard to imagine the building’s slightly tatty state when the centre first evolved almost 10 years ago, but it is testament to the sheer hard work of the centre staff and volunteers who created it.

The germ of the idea came from former vicar Jill Marsh, but the current centre manager Caroline Langston has steered it through very tough years to a point where expansion is natural, and funding is secure.

“We’ve developed bit by bit as funding permitted”, explained Caroline. “It’s been a long journey. But we constantly have new users, such as the Open University who are bringing psychology courses to Rawmarsh in 2012.

“We can house just about anything, and up to 1000 people visit throughout the week for activities from zumba classes to giving blood or attending a lunch club.

“We helped a lunch club get established by providing the facilities and the legal know-how. We encourage any new ideas and give people the backing they need to get started”.

Caroline has plenty of well-earned satisfaction at the continued success of High Street.

She speaks of the thrill of hearing young guitarists hone their skills at the weekly Rock School, and her amazement at being able to persuade grant bodies to part with sums of cash to enable her team to continue their work.

A former HSBC employee, Caroline chose to live and work in Rawmarsh, to “invest hard work in to projects within my own community”.

Activities generate income and along with 12 part-time staff the volunteers play a major part in the rolling programme. And there are good opportunities for volunteers to link with other organisations or gain experience to lead to paid work.

The volunteer exchange has operated since 2009 and supports people who would like to do unpaid work in their community, while helping them to access free training courses. An ASDAN Certificate in Community Volunteering recognises their contributions. Others have gained City and Guilds qualifications in literacy and numeracy, or food hygiene and first aid certificates.

‘Activate’ is a project for children and young people from four to 19 years and aims to build confidence and aspirations. Youth clubs, performing arts with Ash White of Steps, and the Rock Schools are all part of this genre, and the young people involved were thrilled to take part in their own festival earlier this year.

In the future, said Caroline, she would love to see a local meals on wheels service where volunteers would have the time to stay and chat a short while to housebound recipients. “It’s not impossible”, she said. “Just one day a week for those who can’t get out to a lunch club would be good....a community service”.

The after-school child care is another project Caroline is delighted to see come to fruition, to help local parents and carers who need to work and so need child care support. Breaking in to the cycles that make life and work difficult for people is a primary aim.