Hull's Community Centres provide a wealth of activities and are a great place to get involved on a local level ...
Play groups, a café and shop, computer room, Bollywood dancing classes, a drama group, parent and toddler groups, arts and crafts, bowls, slimmers' clubs, martial arts, vintage toy demonstrations, MP and councillors' surgeries, wedding receptions, adult education classes, disco nights, Hallowe'en parties, a lending library…
Where else but at your local community centre would you find such an eclectic mix of the educational, the fun and the downright quirky?
The venue for all the above happens to be the Lonsdale Community Centre in West Hull. But really it could be almost anywhere. Ever since they were set up as a result of the 1944 Education Act to provide community education and recreation, community centres have always offered a wide variety of activities.
The best modern community centres still reflect their founding principles, according to Paul Taylor, who co-chairs the Hull Federation of Community Associations. "The best community centres have lots of facilities, such as computer rooms and kids' play areas," he said. "There are some very good purpose-built centres in Hull, such as the one on Victoria Dock, Spring Bank and Bransholme. "There are also some old buildings that have been successfully adapted, like the Lonsdale Centre."
The council owns all but a handful of Hull's community centres and its scrutiny committee has just completed a year-long investigation into how best to develop one of the city's most valuable assets. Their report found that while some community associations and centres are thriving, others are struggling to survive. The committee has recommended appointing a dedicated officer in charge of community centre development and producing a strategy to guide their progress over the next 10 years.
Paul said that the support would be welcome. "The role of community associations has become harder as the expectations have become greater," he said. "The Government is concerned about people taking ownership in the community and involvement in their community centre is a good way of doing that. "But with all the partnerships that are now involved, volunteers increasingly find themselves working alongside professionals with all the extra stress that involves." Many community centres have now taken on paid staff to carry out essential administrative tasks, like book keeping and licence issues, leaving volunteers free to run the ever-broadening repertoire of activities. And despite the growth of rival leisure outlets, such as gyms and multi-screen cinemas, recent research shows that community centres are still popular.
According to figures published by the Rowntree Foundation, 10 per cent of people in England and Wales are involved in their local community association in some way. "The most successful community centres are in deprived areas," said Paul. "For instance, some people can't afford to go to the posh places to play bingo, so community centres provide a valuable service by running their own." He added: "Community centres provide services from the cradle to the grave. They are one of the very few places where people of all ages can get together. "We're also fighting against the lack of community in our prevailing self-centred culture. We're trying to regain something that's been lost."
For details of your nearest community centre, call the Hull Federation of Community Associations on 563045.