The Highfields area of Leicester is densely populated by one of the UK’s most diverse communities. With nine state primary schools in a half-mile radius, it’s essential that young people can access excellent facilities in their local area.
The Highfields Centre was set up in 1974 and now offers a wide range of services and facilities, including:
• Sports programmes for everyone from school children to elderly people
• Music and media facilities
• English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes
• Adult education classes
• A nursery
• Youth work sessions
• A sports hall
• A prayer room
• A fashion suite
• A gym with top of the range equipment
• Community spaces for hire
Since 2010, when it became independent from the local authority and received an asset transfer from Leicester City Council, the Highfields Centre has welcomed more than half a million people through its doors. It’s open for at least 322 days every year (usually seven days a week), meaning its vital services and facilities are there for the community year-round.
Power to Change’s support has allowed the centre to pivot from being almost wholly dependent on local authority contracts and grants to working across the community in different ways. Now, its management system includes representatives of user groups who sit on an elected governing body, ensuring the centre continues to genuinely serve and act in the best interests of the community.
Improving a vital community hub
The Highfields Centre has received two separate grants from Power to Change. The first, granted in 2016, focused on improving parts of the centre that hadn’t benefited from 2004’s £5 million remodelling project. The centre’s space is now being used more effectively thanks to these improvements, which included moving the café from a hidden part of the first floor to a prominent ground floor location.
A passageway was also built between the new and old sides of the building to improve access, and the sports hall was fitted with a bar to allow it to diversify into hosting weddings and dances, improving the centre’s financial sustainability. In addition, the main hall has been transformed into an impressive conference space, with tiered, retractable seating and a large screen. These actions have significantly increased the centre’s income generation powers by creating well-built spaces for the community to hire.
With Power to Change’s second grant, which was given in March 2020, the organisation plans to pay for freelance professionals to help in areas such as marketing and media. It has also used the money to upgrade its media studios and discount rent for its tenants by up to 80% to protect their future.
Adapting to challenges
The Highfields Centre has faced a number of challenges, including a difficult relationship with the local authority. Between 2013 and 2014, it lost half a million pounds’ worth of contracts. However, Power to Change’s funding has helped the centre to branch out on its own and it now works with a wider range of organisations.
Additionally, the group decided to sub-let parts of the building to like-minded community groups, such as the Race Equality Centre. This has boosted its financial sustainability by generating an additional source of income and improved the scope and quality of its essential community services. For example, the new operators of the centre’s gym have established male- and female-only areas, massively boosting the number of users.
Impact of Covid-19
Despite the number of people coming through Highfields Centre’s doors dropping by 76%, and having to pause many of its group classes, this resilient organisation has weathered the storm. As the Highfields Centre’s income was just above the threshold for government support schemes, the grants provided by Power to Change were even more essential.
It set up a voluntary foodbank that fed up to 70 people every week, after its partners noticed that many in the community were experiencing extreme hardship. The centre was also chosen to be the country’s first walk-in test centre for Covid-19.
Now, the Highfields Centre provides high-quality core services, including adult learning, children and young people’s services. It is also playing a growing role in other areas like arts, health and fitness, community development and mental health and wellbeing.
“The support we’ve enjoyed from Power to Change has been allowed us to transform the centre. Now, we’re properly utilising the space and generating income by offering our community places to come together.” – Priya Thamotheram, Senior Joint Head of Centre