Running a Centre – ‘What makes it is the Volunteers’

Active Communities team took Kings Heath Community Centre Friends Group to visit Bristol to see how Community Centres were being run there outside of Local Authority control – here’s what they said:

We chose two centres to visit in Bristol, both out of Local Authority control, both successful Cooperatives, but both operating from very different buildings and with different approaches to leadership and membership.

Easton Community Centre


Easton Community Centre is quite large with room for long term letting as well as room hire and a significant amount of it’s income to run comes from this. Membership is open to people who live and work locally and costs £1. There are paid staff responsible to the members to manage the centre. Everyone is expected to support the community ethos, take part in community events and provide feedback on the centre when asked. Iris has been the executive officer since the centre left Local Authority control in 2017.

The Old Library

The Old Library is effectively a single large room with a kitchen and large garden. It is completely run by volunteers, and open to anyone to use, with no ‘membership’ as such. Anyone who uses the building has an equal voice in the way it is managed. There are a number of groups who effectively work in the same space to keep the cafe, garden, toy & book library, children’s activities and other activities running, communicating largely by Social Media.

“I’m interested in how it [Kings Heath Community Centre] may be developed by volunteers and if it isn’t, then how we might improve the community centre…I think it’s quite extraordinary, very, very different.  The very large Easton with a beautiful atrium, very well developed and incredibly cheerful and very impressive volunteers. I was taken aback by how it was run like a business, ok a community business, nonetheless no funds from Local Authority, not particularly grants, but they rented out rooms, which I don’t think will be possible with our Community Centre because we don’t have the facilities.  On the other hand the Old Library which is much more like our centre in terms of the building, but equally it was incredibly cheerful and welcoming. I think all this is down to the people who run it, the volunteers. Easton had paid staff but they were interested in helping the community and not just to do a job. I was incredibly impressed with the way in which these people had worked with quite incredible difficulties to develop these places to develop the community and not just a business.”

“The ideas of partnership between business and community struck me [at Easton] and involving business in order to fund it…The whole atmosphere and ambience of the places is important.  An ex-library area but it was very comfortable, bright cheerful, and the commitment of people…the amount of time and commitment people are giving is inspirational, but also quite worrying because if you want to be involved it’s hard work…  We need to involve people about what they want there. The lady at the old library was saying about the importance of structure and really having a good structure in place before you move on. “

“I think the nice, open welcoming spaces that they’ve got are really bright & colourful.  The learning of who’s involved and what it takes to manage the spaces. A nice mix of businesses and partnerships that have been formed – like a radio station, to promote and be there [at Easton].  The fact that they’ve rented a space out to a cafe owner, it’s also very open minded in their approach and how they work it’s not just about having a cafe, it’s about having the owner working in collaboration.  The outdoor spaces were really nice [Old Library]. “

Learning for Kings Heath

“It’s clear that you need a paid manager with good experience and good creativity and somebody who’s really got the necessary past experience to run a community centre.”

The ethos and values are really important.  But not getting rid, throwing everything out.  What is currently there what we have got, but having a diversity of activities there.”

“I had a look around [Kings Heath Community Centre] today and had a think about the things that could be thought about. Using it in more creative ways, getting more mixed groups, getting it brighter, a little less uniform, putting a modern touch on it.  It’s got huge potential because you’ve got that sports hall and you’ve got all the rooms with the added benefit of the corridors to go back on. Some of those spaces could be a little more private. There is a lot of scope for groups it could appeal to.  It’s important to find the right fit for Kings Heath.”

Building a nest at the Old Library

“I was one of the people who was involved in building the Community Centre when the houses there were knocked down.  We were quite pleased to have it taken over by the Local Authority but now there is a possibility of the Local Authority developing it as a community asset transfer.  I’m interested in how it may be developed by volunteers and if it isn’t, then how we might improve the community centre…I’m aware of so many people, particularly young people with children using it, I think it needs to be defended and developed.  It’s difficult for me, who has not given much thought to do this.”

“One of the things I’m surprised by, we have a KHCC Friends, but there have only been four of five of us for about two years now, but when we had the most recent meeting about the future of the centre…people who are already working, we’ve never seen them before and they’re enthusiastic, they come to each meeting…I think it’s partly word of mouth.”

“If people spend time, there is a potential in this, I’m not going to pretend it’s easy but you’re with other people…come and join and it’ll be fun, it’ll be enjoyable, it’ll be difficult but it’ll be worthwhile.  It’ll create community cohesion amongst different groups..It won’t take leaflets, but people going out and having a natter with someone over a tea or a beer or whatever.”

A special thanks to the volunteers and staff at Easton Community Centre and The Old Library for your time and effort to make our visit so enjoyable and valuable to developing our own Community Centre.

Active CommunitiesEaston Community CentreThe Old Library

12th July 2019  |  Marcus Belben