Future Wolverton is a Community Benefit Society that has operated for more than 15 years. It’s operated and owned by its members, the residents of Wolverton, who shape the projects it supports. Since 2016, Future Wolverton has helped local people bring a former community hub, Old School House, back to life as a sustainable community business in an area which previously had few local facilities.
Power to Change’s £475,000 grant helped Future Wolverton purchase and extensively renovate the Grade II listed Old School building. The funds allowed the society to employ a professional project manager and quantity surveyor to accurately identify the level of work needed to make the neglected building usable.
It quickly became clear that the grant wouldn’t cover the full bill, so Future Wolverton began a phased transformation instead. It was able to use Power to Change’s grant to leverage extra funding from the National Lottery and the Co-op Foundation.
Ultimately, across the project’s three phases, the building was restored. Now, its Guest House generates an income through its three hireable rooms and a shared kitchen/living space, which is used for events and by local students. The former school room is now a hireable community hall with capacity for up to 70 and there is an on-site café. This facility generates an additional income, is a social space for the community and has given 59 students from special schools – Slated Row School and Walnuts School – along with volunteers the opportunity to gain work experience.
Additional projects and services include:
- Nature-focused school sessions for children in its wooded space
- Activities including yoga, drama, tai chi, crafting
- Acting as a licensed wedding venue and hireable space for occasions.
“If Power to Change didn’t believe in us right in the beginning, we would never have been able to do any of the wonderful things we’ve been able to,” said Marie Osborne, CEO of Future Wolverton. “We, and others Power to Change have invested in, have shown that if you just trust communities, you get so much. Communities do it better, they do it with passion and belief and you can’t replicate it, not even by local government. The local communities are the only ones who truly know what is needed.”
Adapting to Covid-19
Power to Change’s additional £10,000 Covid support grant with a support grant from the Government helped Old School recoup its £30,000 of losses almost entirely and continue operating. Its guesthouse was able to accommodate key workers during lockdowns and the café moved online via an online shop. Future Wolverton has also moved its booking system online, making it easier for people to access services and facilities.
Due to the extra cleaning requirements, Future Wolverton engaged Sparkling Buddy, a community interest group that helps women from minoritised communities who don’t speak English as their first language to gain work experience. This allowed the project to continue delivering significant social impact while providing even higher standards of cleaning.
The pandemic has changed Future Wolverton’s vision for how Old School House’s facilities will be used. Now, the centre is open to anyone struggling with unemployment, providing information advice and guidance to mums returning to employment to young people with no clear vision for the future. Additionally, the team has launched ‘Making Tracks’ – a new project supporting autistic adults into employment – and is working on expanding its online shop.
Looking to the future
The Old School House continues to go from strength to strength. Since 2019, 40% of its adult trainees have gone into employment or education and in 2020, the Old School House generated £220,000 of income, with 12% coming from traded income (even in spite of extended periods of lockdown).
In 2021, it delivered a summer playscheme and free meals to over 180 vulnerable children over the course of three weeks. Future Wolverton is continuing to support adults with autism to access training and employment opportunities thanks to its strong relationship with the local authority.
To fill any gaps left by community groups that haven’t made it through the pandemic, the group has started running its own sessions, including Pilates for over 60s and table tennis. These sessions generate income through ticket sales, which are reinvested into the facilities. More than 250 people attended its most recent Heritage Open Day, showing that the local community are incredibly keen to continue supporting the centre.
Now, Future Wolverton is looking to acquire new premises, having already outgrown the Old School House. Its work has been recognised by the local authority, which has approached the group to take on a heritage asset in the local area. Future Wolverton is also in the process of acquiring additional community space as part of a town centre redevelopment project, which will act as a space for young people to host meetings, work, access advice, training and socialise.