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Expansion plan for community centre on former Doncaster school site

Twenty years ago, the future looked uncertain for what was then Hill Top School, in Edlngton.

As a school it was facing the axe as bosses as Doncaster Council re-organised the education system to take account of falling pupil numbers at the time.

Hill Top Centre, Edlington.

Hill Top Centre, Edlington.

But the building was kept in community use - and now it could get bigger.

The building was taken over by the Edlington Hill Top Associates, a group put together to make sure it remained in the community, initially by bringing adult education to the site.

Since then it has evolved into a community centre for a wide range of groups in the former pit village.

With the expansion of uses, there could also be an expansion of the building.

Centre manager Leigh Calladine is optimistic of building an extension onto the site - and planning permission is already in place.

She said: "Community needs have changed, so what we do for the community has changed too. We originally only did education programmes. We now do community support, run a charity shop, and have a whole team of volunteers.

"We have 35 people volunteering on a weekly basis, with another 30 who take part in events now and then if we need them. For us it is about supporting people living locally, combating isolation, and supporting people socially, economically and academically. We also try to create aspirations for the people.

"We have grown all the time, and I think we have been successful in those aims.

"We want to expand the building to generate a better offering with more open spice - like a hall. We've had planning permission and architects drawings done, now we just need funding.

"We think it would cost £600,000 with a boiler system. We're looking at grants but we may have to break it down into projects. But that would mean we could do things like shows and exercise classes. We could double or even treble the size of some of the groups which meet here."

Other plans at the centre are to increase the activies for young people. They have had craft activities for five to 11 year olds for some time, but are now talking with youth service providers with the intention of bringing in a youth club.

The activities and services running at the club are provided by a number of volunteers.

One of the services is the community support service.

They work to help people in the community who are in need, with social support covering many areas.

They have recently provided help to people who have been applying for Universal Credit, helping them put together applications online.

Online applications for official services are a common service they provide, as not everyone in their community.has access to the internet.

Among the team is Victoria Whitmore.

Victoria aged 30, has been volunteering at the centre for two years. She said she finds the work rewarding.

"You're a person for the public to speak to," she said. "People often come to us with one issue, and then we find out that they have other things where they need help, and we try to help them as much as we can."

"People find we are not judgmental and don't have an authoritarian approach."

The centre is also base for a number of community groups.

Altogether for Autism is one of those groups. It is attended by people from across the autism spectrum, and run by volunteers Andrew and Eleanor French, Megan Cadwallader, and Liz Kent.

They do a number of activities, with the members of the group deciding what those will be. On the day the Free Press visited, they were looking at World War One items with the Doncaster 1914-18 project, and making trench tea, a drink drunk by soldiers in the trenches.

It is also home to a knit and natter group, which has been running there for seven years.

Members Pam Chambers, aged 75, and Sandra Astbury, aged 66, explained the group find useful homes for the items they create.

This include knitting vests for babies in Africa, which they send out to be given to mothers to clothe their children after they have given birth.

They also knit clothes for premature babies.

"We're usually got around 12 members," said Pam. "We're always on the lookout for new ones though."

There are also two art groups, one for oil painters and one for water colour painters, and a Parent Activity Team

The Parent Activity Team is similar to parent and toddler groups - but the focus is on the parent rather than the child.

It runs activities that both the parent and child can take part in, but the focus is on engaging parents.

It has around 30 members.

The venue also does a lot of work for dementia patients, and is home to the Forteas Vintage Community Room, a tearoom which hosts 1940s and 1950s themed events.

On top of all that, it is home to a day nursery and a vocational skills unit run by Sir Thomas Wharton Academy, and a community allotment.

Minibus plans

Plans are being drawn up to raise money for a community minibus to serve Edlington - Blue Peter style

Hill Top Centre manager Rob Smedley is hoping to launch an appeal for metal cans, which he wants to use to bring in the funds that would be needed to buy a vehicle which would be able to be used by groups across the former pit village.

He said: "We're looking at getting people to bring in tin cans, drinks cans, and we'll get them weighed in to raise money. When we've got enough we'll use it to get a 17 seater minibus."

"At the moment we are sometimes able borrow one from Sir Thomas Wharton Academy, but that is only at weekends as the school uses it during the week.

"We don't know who long it will take to raise the money, but we're patient."

Cans could be dropped off at the centre on Edlington Lane, or at the Helping Hands charity shop it run in the village.