Mention Farnham, and most conjure up the image of a well-off, leafy Georgian town, but like many places there are pockets that don’t fit that description. Situated on a small estate on the outskirts of Farnham, the Hale Community Centre strives to deliver to, and be a voice for, a community that scores high on the index of multiple deprivation each year but low on the wider consciousness of the area.
Cathy Burroughs, centre manager explains: “We have such diverse populations sitting alongside each other here. The challenges we face are making sure there is equality of opportunity and access across the board. Things are often done without thought for, or consultation with, our community. Take the building we occupy, it was converted by the council and then handed to a trust to manage when completed, no one in the community was asked what use they wanted to put it to first.
“We’ve got a hall but it’s not big enough for sports unfortunately, which means we are restricted in generating the income we need to support our charitable work. The health inequality of the population we serve is quite shocking, whilst over the road it’s a completely different story. We try and be a voice for the community and we provide activities, education and opportunities as well.”
The centre provides a sustainable, secure and welcoming space that is deeply valued and supported by the people of Upper Hale and the surrounding area. Support takes many forms, from a girls club for girls transitioning up to secondary school at risk of grooming, to a community garden and cookery classes where local families learn new skills and have some valuable family time cooking and eating together.
A community fridge takes food from local supermarkets and is open to anybody to stop the food from going to waste, whilst a share store means people can donate toys, games, DVDs or anything else that they think someone could find a use for. A new craft café is bringing together isolated people anxious about going back into society post-lockdown, building their confidence up to go back into social situations again.
“We know our community, we are part of our community, our community know us. We’ve done the hard yards of building up that trust”
“As soon as the pandemic hit, all of that groundwork that we’d put in came good and we took the decision really early on that we were going to continue to open and do everything we could to ensure that we were still providing support to this community. It really worked. People would come to the share-store, but it wasn’t so much coming to get a new jigsaw, it was coming somewhere where there was a bit of space and someone else to talk to.
“They found relief in that, the fact that we’ve been here for them throughout. We know our community, we are part of our community, our community know us. We’ve done the hard yards of building up that trust.”
Securing a place on the Community Business Trade Up Programme run by the School for Social Entrepreneurs in partnership with Power to Change meant Cathy was able to attend a fully funded, nine-month learning programme, meet a community of supportive peers and secure a match trading grant of £10k.
“The Trade Up money was no strings attached; you just have to prove that you had improved your income, so we were able to spend it how we thought best. £2k paid for me to attend the programme and put into place the learning, the rest, £8k, bought us some security and enabled us to be bold and employ another member of staff to manage the building and the hire and work on growing the business. That really helped.
“There’s always this dichotomy between community and commercial; you have to have the underlying commercial bit to be able to offer the community those things that are needed and meet our charitable objectives. With the Trade Up money we were able to strengthen our core and look to our sustainability but keep ensuring that what we’re doing is filling those gaps that we’ve identified within the community. The other huge benefit was connecting with all the other people on the Trade Up programme. An ongoing network of peer support.”