'We'll fight to save our Doncaster community centre' pledge residents

The warning was stark.

Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 12:00 pm

If a Doncaster Community Centre did not see a major upturn in its use, it would be shut down and converted into a bungalow.

That was the picture painted for resident Shaun Kessell when he met with one of her local Doncaster councillors and officials from St Leger Homes.

That was in February.

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Shaun Kessell, Balby South Community Engagement Society Area Co-ordinator and Chairman, Rachel Hodkinson, Marie Black, both activities and events team members, Caroline Goforth, secretary, Karen Johnson and Sheree McGeechan, both activities and events team members, pictured during the official opening of the Galsworthy Close Community Centre. NDFP-08-10-19-GalsworthyCommunity-1

Eight months on, the community has assembled a team of volunteers who have pledged to do all they can to keep Galsworthy Community Centre up and running – and use it to help make their streets safer and residents happier.

Shaun, who lives on the estate, is disabled with a condition that affects his walking.

He is a former scout leader, who became involved in community issues after raising concerns over mud near the Balby recycling centre. He started doing drop-in sessions for residents offering advice at Balby Library – and when the future of the community centre was under threat, he was approached by his councillor.

He was told there was 18 months to save the venue, which consists of a large room and a kitchen on Galsworthy Close.

Shaun Kessell, Balby South Community Engagement Society Area Co-ordinator and Chairman, Caroline Goforth, secretary and Karen Johnson, activities team member, pictured during the official opening. NDFP-08-10-19-GalsworthyCommunity-2

The issue was soon a hot topic of conversation at the library. And volunteers rallied to help. There is now a team of 12 working to keep things running, with plans to use the venue to prevent people being left alone in their community, and provide activities for youngsters as an alternative to them being on the streets causing antisocial behaviour.

Now the centre has been re-opened, with eight groups now using the venue, where there the numbers had previously been down to one. They are still looking to run more.

They have set up Balby South Community Engagement Society, and Shaun is chairman.

He said: “For the last five years or so there had only been one group using the centre, for over 60s’ bingo. As a result, it was put on an asset review list.

Rachel Hodkinson, pictured making Toast, during the Balby Babies and Toddler group. NDFP-08-10-19-GalsworthyCommunity-3

“The mission I have for this community of Balby is to stamp out social isolation and give the youth of today something to do. We are starting to see this and I couldn’t do it without the support of my fantastic team and the local community.

“When I decided back in February to do this and give something back to the community I didn’t think that eight months down the line we would still be at it. We have come across obstacles and other minor issues but all the hard work has paid off and I’m so grateful for the backing we’ve received.”

He said he and the volunteers were working with the police and the council.

Among the volunteers joining Shaun on the opening day were Marie Black, Karen Johnson and Rachel Hodkinson, who all attend a craft group at Balby Library. They are now involved in similar activities at the community centre.

Karen arranged craft sessions after school for older children.

Rachel said: “We had run a mum and toddler group elsewhere, but it closed down because it was in the middle of OAP bungalows. We thought we’d try it here, and we had the first session in this building on the opening day for the re-launched centre. There were 14 children, and I’m pleased with that. We’ve already been asked by child minders if we can run two a week.”

Caroline Goforth, a friend of Shaun from scouts, who lives close to the centre, also signed up for the campaign and is now secretary of the new society.

She said: “People want things to do round here, but there is nothing nearby for youngsters.” Her daughter is already attending sessions at the centre.

She added: “There have been complaints about anti-social behaviour round here, but it’s because the kids have had had nothing to do. If they can come here, that can reduce the problem.”

Doncaster College has also now got involved in the project, and students are volunteering to help run some of the activities.

There have also been talks with the local community about what sort of activities they would like to see running at Galsworthy.

Among those that have been proposed are a boxing club and a youth disco. It has also been suggested local football clubs could use the space.

There is also a plan to set up a food bank and clothes swap shop for people who are struggling financially, and a crowdindfunding scheme has been set up on https://uk.gofundme.com/f/activities-and-events-for-all-ages.

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