ALMOST a decade ago an empty shop on a Bridlington Estate was converted into a community centre which is now not only acting as a social lifeline for residents but has gone onto win the royal seal of approval.
Every week people of all ages attend the West Hill Community Centre to access a wide range of services, including art classes, a youth club and ‘winter warmer’ sessions for senior citizens, all designed to promote “grass roots” social inclusion for residents on Bridlington’s West Hill Estate.
Now after eight years in the making the work being carried out by registered charity West Hill Community Services has won a royal accolade - a Duke of York Community Initiative Award.
Next week chairman of the charity and Centre manager Cec Lindley will meet His Royal Highness Prince Andrew at an awards ceremony at the Spa Bridlington when she will be presented with the award.
So what better time for the Free Press to take five with Cec to find out how the Centre has grown over the years and what is it that coaxed her out of retirement and into a full-time role serving her community.
Cec was first recruited to the centre in 2005 as a volunteer to help get it off the ground after it was decided to use development money from the East Riding of Yorkshire Council to breath new life into the empty shop.
“I had been here five months and I was sold. It was still finding its feet with no funding or anything,” said Cec.
“We carried it on until we got some funding, so I was a volunteer for about two years.
“By then we had got the youth club well established and we’ve gone from having a couple of hours a week to providing 12 hours a week of youth work.”
The youth club was the first product of the centre and now for two nights a week it caters for six to 12 year olds, while Wednesday’s from 2pm to 9pm the Centre runs a drop in session for teenagers.
“If we had the funding we would do it every day,” added Cec who now manages 14 volunteers and three session workers.
An art group came next as somewhere for people who were feeling particularly lonely or isolated to interact with like minded people.
Cec said: “It was somewhere for lonely people to go, it was a social thing but from the start of that it’s developed and we now have two art groups.
“It’s about mixing together, serious artists and people who come because they enjoy doing art but it’s more therapy for them,” she added.
‘Winter Warmers’ were also soon established as a senior citizen social group but has proved so popular the sessions, now affectionately referred to as ‘senior moments’ now run throughout the year, on a Friday afternoon, whatever the weather.
And the sessions have proved highly innovative with the idea for the centre’s charity shop being produced during a ‘senior moment’ to help the centre meet its £40-£50,000 annual running costs.
The continued success of the centre is very much a community effort, with everyone pulling together to ensure its success under the leadership of Cec who has long let go of any plans she may have had to retire to Bridlington.
“We came here to retire and I wanted somewhere to act the lady in retirement and do some art but now everybody else does it and I haven’t got the time,” she said.
But it would seem the rewards from doing the work she does far outweighs the challenges that the past eight years have presented for Cec.
“The past eight years have absolutely flown. It’s been a real challenge, it’s been stressful but it’s been tremendously rewarding and you make so many friends,” she said.
“When I first came to West Hill it seemed to be quite isolated and nobody seemed to pay any attention to West Hill, it was just on the outskirts, but now everybody knows about West Hill and the community there,” she added.
And the Centre is continuing to flourish, with the back yard having just been refurbished and kitted out as a safe and colourful play area for the younger members of the youth club.
And the Centre is already turning its attentions to their next project - possibly acquiring a tennis court to the rear of the Centre for youngsters to make use of, providing yet another facility for those residents who perhaps cannot afford to travel into town.
“That’s the whole idea because it’s so expensive for people to go into the town so we try to provide everything here.”
Cec will collect the Duke of York’s Community Initiative award at the Spa Bridlington on Monday October 22.
“It’s a big honour for the Centre because it’s taken a long time for the residents to see us as part of the community,” Cec said.
But given its success it appears that residents, not just of West Hill but from elsewhere in Bridlington and beyond, have fully embraced the services the centre provides at a facility that is now very much at the heart of the community.