The Big Warsop hub
In Warsop Big Local area, the opportunity to develop a community hub came through the local charitable trust, the Sir John Eastwood Foundation. The foundation offered to gift a derelict depot in the village to a local youth project, for use as a youth centre. This youth project was unable to take up this offer as it had no legal status but Big Warsop took up the opportunity and kept the project alive with a view to develop the building into a community hub for local groups. They are currently partway through the process of exploring this opportunity further. Big Warsop then approached another youth group called Warsop Youth Club to be the organisation to hold this asset and take this project forward in partnership, as they are a registered charity.
The Sir John Eastwood Foundation officially transferred the building to the youth charity in January 2014. Members of Big Warsop have now become trustees for the youth charity to provide additional support and together they’ve explored how to turn their ideas for the hub into reality. Big Warsop has allocated £100,000 of its Big Local funding to refurbish the building, with a further £40,000 for development and running costs to get the building open.
From ideas to action
To fully develop the building for community use, Big Warsop and the youth charity need to make substantial changes to meet conditions set by the local authority as part of the change of use of the building. These conditions include improvements to the car-parking arrangements, external lighting and toilets. This has meant that while the opportunity to take ownership of the building was very positive, there have also been a number of challenges. Halina Kochanowski, vice chair of Big Warsop says:
“When we agreed to take it over we were possibly a bit naïve thinking ‘oh yeah, we can do this, no problem’. What we’ve found is that it’s actually much more complicated and costly than we thought it was going to be. All of the legal things about liability, employment law, things like that, it’s all got to be worked into the mix with people who have no experience of doing this before.”
Halina has been one of the key drivers of the project, working with the youth charity and other Big Warsop partnership members to work out how they can meet the conditions of change of use for the building and establish it as a community hub.
Additional funding opportunities
Big Warsop looked at external funding opportunities as a way to make the necessary improvements for the conditions of use. Unfortunately, they were not successful with their application for capital funding because it wasn’t clear to the funder exactly what activities would be delivered in the building and how the community need for the building had been established. They’re now looking at other ways of funding some of the building’s refurbishment in addition to the funding provided though Big Local.
One option is getting more volunteers involved in improving the building, but this can be difficult with the nature of some of the work due to health and safety risks and providing adequate insurance cover for manual labour. As more challenges emerge, it’s become clear to Big Warsop that the project will take longer than anticipated and this can be difficult to manage both for the group and with the expectations of the community. Halina adds:
“It’s very difficult to keep the engagement of the community when you can’t see how it’s all going to go yourself.”
Working with partners
Since June this year, the youth charity and Big Warsop have been working in partnership with a local community interest company (CiC) to iron out what legal structures they’ll need in place to own and manage the building. Their current proposal is the CiC will run the community hub once the building improvements are completed, with the youth charity owning the building as an asset. Any profit made by the CiC once the hub is up and running will be reinvested to generate more community activities.
Big Warsop’s aspiration is that the building will become a thriving community hub for residents, while generating some income through training events. Big Warsop is working with a local college to explore what they could deliver at the hub and exploring other opportunities to build up a picture of what they’ll be able to offer. All these efforts are geared towards the achievement of their vision to ‘Provide a catalyst and capability to make Warsop Parish great, helping residents achieve our potential and bring back vibrancy and pride.’ (Big Warsop plan)
Focus on sustainability
As Big Warsop has been developing their plans, they’ve been thinking a lot about the building’s sustainability and its future. Halina explains the challenge:
“We can use the £100k to get the building open, but getting it open won’t make it sustainable. What don't want to get the building open, to then turn around in one or two years and say - this isn’t working and we need to close it. What we’re trying to do is to make sure that when it does open, it will be viable.”
Big Warsop has been looking into the opportunity to invest in green energy for the building and install solar panels on the roof. However, until they can be confident that it’s possible to make the building sustainable they’re wary of investing further.
Big Warsop carried out a feasibility study for the building. However, Halina has found that in practice there have still been some surprises. There’s also a great deal of work still required to turn the ideas into action.
Big Warsop has learnt to do a lot themselves and try to come up with solutions to the challenges they faced. While this has been positive in terms of helping people to develop new skills and knowledge, it’s also been a challenge not having the experience to deal with some complex issues. Halina explains:
“To get the idea on paper into a workable project is a lot of work. It’s been a very steep learning curve. It’s not just having the capacity to get the building ready to open, but also having the capacity to run what you want to put in it. At the moment we’re looking at other organisations who’ve done similar things to make links and ask them ‘how they did things."
While it’s been challenging to get the community hub in Warsop up-and-running, they’ve learnt some important lessons from their experience. Big Warsop feel that it’s really important to have a clear focus on how the space will be used by different groups and keep the users in mind. They also highlight that how the building will actually be managed is vital and you have to know if you have the capacity to deliver that, or if you need to look at working with partners.
Key learning from Big Warsop
- Don’t get carried away by people’s enthusiasm alone. Turning your good idea on paper into reality is a challenge.
- Things take longer than expected and there are lots of legal issues that you need to be prepared for, especially when it comes to ownership of the building.
- Think about whether your group has the capacity to manage the building, or whether there might be another organisation you could partner with to make the most of the opportunity.
- Make sure you do a feasibility study to explore all of the options thoroughly.
- Ensure you can communicate how the hub will be used and managed, especially if applying for additional funding.
- Buildings costs can quite easily spiral into ever-growing sums of money. Knowing what is essential compared to what is simply desirable to furnish and equip the building can be difficult.