Earlier this month I visited The Haven in Henfield to see how a National Lottery award has helped to fund the expansion of the village’s community hub.
The original day centre was owned by West Sussex County Council, but the building was dilapidated and when demand for its services fell it was threatened with closure.
But four years ago local volunteers stepped in and set up a Community Interest Company to take ownership of the property. Several grants were won to transform the day centre into a thriving hub of activities.
Customers now include dementia groups, services for carers and therapies. The Haven also runs a café serving breakfasts and lunches. One Sunday a month it hosts a Community Sunday Lunch in partnership with the local church.
Tony Jackson, Digby Stephenson and their dedicated team of volunteers deserve huge credit for this inspirational project. They have shown that a different model of delivering local services, harnessing community power, can not only help to retain facilities but improve them.
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Last December I visited Fittleworth’s brilliant new community store which is wholly owned and run by local people in the village. 50 volunteers give their time to staff the shop and café which has been nominated for a Countryside Alliance ‘Rural Oscar’.
Fittleworth had not had a village store or post office for eight years, but thanks to this new model and its dedicated volunteers it has not only got these things back but now has a popular cafe and outdoor children’s play area, too.
This is now the sixth community shop in my constituency, joining Amberley, Kirdford, Graffham, Slindon and Sayers Common.
A village action group saved the Black Horse pub in Amberley, and as I saw when I visited it recently its new owners have refurbished it with a fabulous new restaurant, and will soon open guest rooms, too.
When David Cameron talked about the Big Society many derided his vision, but I always thought it was a big idea. Critics said it was an excuse to cut public services, and sneered at the idea of volunteering.
But in my constituency volunteers have long been the quiet army who keep local public services going, whether it is the community minibus, groups for the elderly, or clubs for the young.
Now volunteers are helping not just to retain community facilities but build exciting new ones.
Find further information, including the highlights of my diary each week, on my website: www.nickherbert.com.
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