Spirit alive and kicking in Halton

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COMMUNITY spirit is alive and kicking in one of the district’s oldest and most attractive villages.

Until a couple of years ago, villagers in Halton had a relatively small and out-of-date community centre that was starting to fall into disrepair.

However, thanks to the dedication and hard graft of a small team of volunteers, Halton now has a fabulous, state-of-the-art community centre with many sustainable features.

Named The Centre @ Halton, the building and outdoor spaces are now used for everything from sports and clubs to live music events and weddings.

On my visit to The Centre @ Halton, I am blown away by the stunning location, the huge variety of facilities, the friendliness of the volunteers, and the selfless dedication of everyone who has contributed to the redevelopment project.

Regular activities include art classes, classes with the Taylor School of Dance, Zumba sessions, Lune Valley Voices choir, American square dancing, indoor bowls, Knitter natter, junior football, Halton Hangout club for young people, English country dancing, gymnastics, street dance, a toddler group, Total body conditioning, Enjoy a Ball, acting classes, football for children and adults and much more.

And on Saturday, June 2 and Sunday, June 3, a large number of events and activities will be held to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Anyone who goes to the Happening @ Halton will be able to join in the fun and see exactly what the community centre has to offer.

Amazingly, nearly all of the work on transforming the centre has been done by volunteers. No mean feat these days.

Maureen Richardson, the centre’s manager, has been a volunteer, and the main fund-raiser for more than 10 years.

Officially re-opened in 2010, The Centre @ Halton is run by the Halton Community Association (HCA) charity, so Maureen and other volunteers have been able to apply for grants to renovate, expand and redevelop the building.

Maureen, who has her own child-minding business, says the local community is at the heart of everything the centre does. “We want people to feel it’s their home,” she explains.

“Over the years we have had all sorts of events at the centre. The hall is great for parties and events like our ceilidhs. We have all sorts of equipment, including laser lights and a stage. We set up our own bar when we need to. We held our first wedding recently. It was lovely.”

One of The Centre @ Halton’s biggest successes so far has been its coffee shop.

Susan Lucas, who previously worked at Lancaster University’s Management School and is now honorary marketing and PR organiser, says the money made through the coffee shop is helping to sustain the services offered by the centre.

“The coffee shop is run by volunteers, and it has been successful in generating funds,” says Susan.

“We would love to have more volunteers for the coffee shop and other aspects of the centre. The centre is for everyone from the whole district. Everybody is welcome.

“We have recently commissioned a student project from the University’s Management School to look at different aspects of the centre, and how we might innovate, develop and grow as effectively as possible.

“We want to focus on what we can do for the local community, including for elderly people, and we need to look more at organisational issues such as training.”

Another important part of the redevelopment project was to connect the centre, which is on Low Road, with High Road in the village.

Brian Jefferson, a former RAF pilot and chairman of Halton Parish Council until the recent elections, is the centre’s project manager.

“By creating the path, we are now accessible to everyone,” he explains. “It has been a key element of the project.

“We have shown that people don’t need to be told what to do by the authorities. People can do things for themselves and there are agencies that can help.

“It is really important that local communities find their own solutions to their community issues.”

Other key volunteers at the centre include Carol Slinger, the finance officer for the parish council, and Carol Holman, the chairman of Halton Community Association.

The centre is also a great place for children and young adults. As well as the indoor facilities, the centre has a slick, purpose-built skate park which is always extremely busy out of school hours. I met one young man who has travelled all the way from Preston just to use the skate park.

There is also an all-weather sports area and fantastic children’s play park with a new football pitch.

The Halton Hangout club for young people has proved to be particularly popular, and the centre has worked with local youth worker, Steven Naylor, to develop the service for youngsters.

In redeveloping the building, the volunteers have added pioneering sustainable features such as ground source heat pumps, solar panels, UV panels, a recycled air system and a grey water system.

The centre’s main grant was £500,000 from the Lancashire Environmental Fund in the spring of 2008. A further £185,000 was raised to build the new annex.

A grant of £450,000 from the Big Lottery Fund enabled the volunteers to develop the outdoor areas. Many other funders including Lancashire County, also contributed to the work.

Maureen says one of the centre’s next challenges is to install a new kitchen.

As I leave the centre I can’t help feeling that the district is lucky to have such a marvellous resource.

Check it out on June 2 and 3 to find out for yourself!