GALLERY: Inside Community House, whose future may be uncertain but whose value to the community is clear to see

Community House, Southwell road, Wisbech.Sophie Wilkinson Mobile community officer in the reception

Community House, Southwell road, Wisbech.Sophie Wilkinson Mobile community officer in the reception lounge. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

It is a small house tucked away in the Waterlees ward in Wisbech but its value to the community can not be underestimated.

Manned by a manager and two staff, Community House, on the corner of Southwell Road, is somewhere people can go to pay their gas bills, get help job hunting, volunteer, do their laundry, boost their confidence, learn to cook and take part in group activities. If the centre’s staff can’t help, they’ll find someone who can.

There’s an IT suite, kitchen and a spacious garden where events are put on throughout the year for the community.

Community House worker Jayde Thompson said: “Our role is to support the community - anything they want, we are here to help them with. If we can’t, we’ll signpost them to somebody who can help.

“Some days we are really busy, others are more quiet. It varies. It’s very rewarding and enjoyable - no day is the same.”

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Between May 2013 and April 2014, 861 people were helped in a variety of ways by the centre, but, due to budgetary concerns (it costs Fenland District Council £50,000 a year to run the centre), it’s future was cast into doubt last year.

A three month consultation was launched last September. The response spoke volumes about the centre’s importance to the community.

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Almost 600 people signed a petition against its closure and more than 70 people took part in the consultation, sharing why the centre matters to them.

The centre was praised for its children’s activities and the warmth of the staff. It was described as somewhere people feel comfortable sharing their problems knowing they will get the support they need.

A full meeting of the council heard from three residents who use the centre, including Stacey Pitcher who described it as a “brilliant place for young people to get help and advice. If it closed it would leave a void in many people’s lives”.

The centre’s immediate future has been secured by a £48,000 grant from the Department of Work and Pensions, which will keep it open until April 2016.

But, with FDC saying it can’t afford to cover the centre’s running costs, alternative sources of funding need to be found to secure its longer term future.

One option is for a trust or social enterprise to be set up to oversee the centre.

The trust model could then be copied and used to take the community centre idea into March, Whittlesey and Chatteris.

Miss Thompson said: “I think it (losing Community House) would be a great loss for the community. It was a surprise how many people came out for the consultation. We are so proud of them. It’s nice that people appreciate the work we do.”

Community House manager Carl Suckling admits the past few months have been “challenging” but he is hopeful about the centre’s future.

He said: “It’s been a challenging last few months but, with the funding in April, we have a good opportunity to still support the community, albeit in a slightly different way.

“The nature of what we do means you don’t know what you are going to face. We get all sorts of enquiries - about CVs, utility bills or maybe something we’ve not faced before. Often our role is signposting.

“The consultation showed us the work we do changes peoples’ lives. This was reflected by people speaking to full council and expressing the difference Community House made to them.

“It’s nice for your work to be appreciated by the community.”

Councillor Virginia Bucknor, a passionate supporter of Community House, said: “In our corporate objectives it says support vulnerable members of the community and promote health and well being - which means places like Community House are our remit.

“It (the DWP funding) gives us breathing space but we are still looking for more funding so that we can open for longer hours and longer term so we can do outreach work.

“A lot of people don’t know the wonderful things the centre has on offer.

“We would like to thank everybody for their support. It’s made such a difference.”

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