‘Everything’s improved, I’m so proud’: How a Lancashire community centre went from decrepit ruin to the future of local living
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“It was decrepit - there was masonry falling off the walls - but a few volunteers kickstarted a bit of a revival in the fortunes of the place,” explains Seamus Heffernan, who has been chair of the community’s lead volunteer group for three years. “It’s become a real hub for the local area post-Covid, but prior to that we gradually built it up as a community resource.”
An independent charity, Mellor Brook Community Centre’s fortunes have been transformed by their volunteer group, which meets every six weeks and which has turned the centre into a bustling hive once again. It now hosts everything from ukulele classes, kids’ performing arts tuition, and Pilates to toddlers’ playgroups, parish council meetings, and Beavers.
“Everything’s improved now: we have all sorts of different groups and diverse activities across a wide age range,” says Seamus, who has been involved at the centre for around 20 years. “It makes me very proud to see what’s happened, it’s amazing. There’s a lot of goodwill involved and we’ve got a really committed and conscientious group of volunteers.
“We really only have two pubs, a bakery, and churches in the local area in terms of places which could foster community spirit, so we’ve become something of a hub in that respect,” adds Seamus, 65, who lives in Balderstone. “It’s a really convivial environment.”
Despite the disruptive impact Covid-19 and lockdown had on the centre’s users, the volunteer board took the decision to use the break to improve the centre’s facilities, installing a new £8k overhead lighting system after three years of fundraising whilst also redecorating the building and improving the gardens thanks to government Covid-recovery funding.
A modern and adaptable facility, the centre now offers groups the use of a kitchen, a 100-capacity hall with an elevated stage, a sound system, the aforementioned lighting rig, and a projector, encouraging local people to physically come together and bond over shared interests and pursuits. But getting the centre’s ducks in a row can be painstaking, at times.
“While I enjoy seeing results, things can often take forever, which can be frustrating,” says Seamus, the desire to do good for his local community clear in his voice. “Just getting the ball rolling can lead to a huge amount of messing about but, because my company - a recording studio in Balderstone - has done so little business since Covid, I’ve been able to afford the time.
"And I’ve found being more active in trying to get things done massively rewarding.”
Encapsulating a spirit of onwards and upwards, the community forged around the centre nevertheless remembers its own: last year, one of the centre’s most prominent volunteers and the leader of the local Beavers, Cubs, and Scouts groups Sue Middlemas died unexpectedly at the age of 76. In tribute to her indelible memory, friends and family gathered for the unveiling of a painting in her honour this August and gave her a proper Mellor Brook Community Centre send-off.