With a Little Help from my Friends
By Laura Blake, Development Director
Last week, while I was driving home, the song ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ came on the radio and I found myself grinning. Not just because Sgt. Peppers is one of my favourite albums, but because it was one of those moments where my car radio provided the perfect soundtrack for what I was feeling. In my case, because I’d just spent a day visiting some of the projects we have supported that showed me that community spirit was truly alive and well.
My final stop of the day was St. Peter’s Church and Church Hall on the Westfield Estate in Yeovil, an area that is identified as the most disadvantaged in South Somerset. The Church Hall has provided a vital meeting place for the 5,000 local residents since the 1960s, originally hosting everything from pantomimes to community bingo. But in 2012 the hall was recommended for demolition. I can see why. The former farm outbuilding is cold, difficult to access and lacks modern facilities.
Reverend David Keen walked me around the site and shared the vision that he and the local community association had for a new Westfield Community Centre. A true community hub for everyone to use, that would bring much needed services to local people. The new hall will host everything from Citizens Advice to IT classes; parent and toddler groups to Girl Guides; and a mobile library service.
It is a truly ambitious project with a £1m fundraising target; scary for even a large charity, let alone a group of local volunteers. And yet, at the time of writing, the group have secured almost all of the funding they need, raising more than £200,000 in the last few months alone.
Much of the funding from the centre came from charitable trusts and local companies. But what inspired me the most was the incredible support of people from the Westfield community itself. Hundreds of people have made a donation to ‘buy a brick’ for the new hall or gone along to fundraising events. Thanks to their determination, community spirit – and a little help from some friends – in October 2019 the Westfield Community Centre will open. The 5,000 local residents will have a wonderful new space that will provide fun, friendship, support and advice for generations to come.
St. Peter’s is just one of many inspiring projects I’ve had the pleasure of visiting during my first month at SCF. The others include a homeless day centre, a nursery for children with additional needs, a support group for people with mental health problems, and a thriving community centre. I plan to visit many more in the months ahead.
The staff and volunteers working in communities across Somerset are delivering vital and specialist services. But as an outsider looking in, the golden thread I can see that runs through all of these amazing organisations is friendship. Taking the time to have a cup of tea and a chat with a lonely older person who may not have seen another person for a week; helping a parent navigate the complexities of getting support they need for a child with additional needs; volunteering to cook a hot meal for someone who has spent the night sleeping on the street.
As an organisation, we’re delighted to play a small part in supporting groups like these to help their communities to thrive. But we can only do so with a little help from our friends; from families, companies and trusts who are passionate about supporting good causes in Somerset.
If you’d like to know more about giving through Somerset Community Foundation, please get in touch and I’d be delighted to help.