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The Neighbourhood Centre at Cantley opened in June, 2014 and has just held the Annual General Meeting for 2019.  The chair of the Steering Group, Fr Bernard O’Brien, informed the meeting that the Centre continues to exceed expectations, reaching out to the community and providing a warm and friendly place where every effort is made to assist and support anyone in need.

  To date the Centre has welcomed approximately 44,000 visitors and has had the support of 89 wonderful Volunteers who have generously given their time to support the Centre.

Mrs Angela Fox, the Neighbourhood Centre Manager, informed the meeting of the year’s activities and noted that the “Come and See” signage above the door attracted approximately 9,500 visits by members of the community during 2019.  Magnificent support is provided by the current team of 35 Volunteers.  The Centre works in conjunction with the Stronger Families Team, Leger Homes, Doncaster Wellbeing and local ward councillors in order to ensure that the correct support is provided for those in need and trained Citizen Advice representatives are present on site one day per week.  The advisors deal with a wide range of problems but the most common are in relation to benefits payments.  Family problems, consumer rights and legal disputes are also dealt with on a regular basis.

  During 2019 the Neighbourhood Centre registered with Fairshare, an organisation which links supermarkets to local charities.  Volunteers collect food from local branches of Tesco and Asda and take it to the Neighbourhood Centre.  The food is offered for free or for a small donation to anyone who visits the Centre.  It is clear that this is much needed as approximately 30 households are benefiting from this every week.  The Centre is also authorised to issue food vouchers on behalf of the Trussel Trust.  Eight vouchers were issued during the year and the Centre also provided emergency food aid to ten families.

  Over the Christmas period the Neighbourhood Centre distributed 20 hampers to families in need.  These contained food, personal hygiene products and other essential items.  This was made possible by the generous donations received from the local community and members of St Paul’s Parish.

  Part of the Centre’s ethos is to try and understand the needs of the community and put in place support to address those needs.  Volunteers in the Centre understand that loneliness and isolation are significant issues for many in the local community.  Therefore, in addition to providing a friendly place to meet, the Centre also arranged a day trip to Scarborough and a very popular fashion show, cum pantomime, for visitors to enjoy.  Both events were very well supported, and attendees are now keen to sign up for similar activities in 2020.

  The Centre has earned a very positive reputation, both locally and in other parts of the town, and has become a point of contact for many organisations, including the Central Stronger Communities Team.  During the year the Centre responded to request to provide school uniforms to 20 families in need, some of those from the refugee community.  Other schools were provided with essential equipment to support both pupils and teachers.  Local libraries have also benefited from significant donations of books and craft materials to support their work.

  With the needs of the more energetic and outdoor types in mind, the Neighbourhood Centre acquired a Community Allotment in 2015 and it is still thriving!  The allotment is run entirely by Volunteers.  During the year 5 families have been involved and it has proved again to be a great source of fresh vegetables and salad items in the summer season.  Boxes of fresh vegetables are brought to the Centre and are made available for anyone wants them.  The allotment has become a meeting place as well as providing the opportunity to enjoy fresh air and exercise.

  The Centre reaches out to all sections of the community and is very pleased with the expansion of the Cantley and Bessacarr “Strollers Group” which is now in its fourth year.  Every week, during term time and weather permitting, Mary Sayer, one of the Volunteers, and her husband, Peter lead a walking group on planned walks around the area.  As well as the obvious benefits of fresh air and exercise the “Strollers” now look on it as a social event.  Long may it continue!

  In 2019 the Neighbourhood Centre held two Fashion Shows to help raise money for HCPT 101 Group.  Both events were well supported and very enjoyable.  With donations, a magnificent sum of £1,260 was raised.  Our young, and young at heart, were very entertaining as well as being good models.

  As stated in Fr Bernard’s opening remarks, the Neighbourhood Centre continues to exceed expectations and this has been reflected in the fact that other organisations have visited the Centre during the year in order to learn from its experience.  The Centre Manager has provided advice on how we established the Centre from the germ of an idea to the reality of what we provide to date.

  In summary, the work of the Centre is varied and can range from providing a friendly location for a cup of tea and chat to responding to specific needs such as the provision of emergency food and clothing for families in need.  Whatever the problem, the Centre endeavours to provide a solution either directly or by engaging the help of others.

  The meeting was followed by a “Thank You Meal” for Volunteers and their guests which was organised by parishioners of St Paul’s, Cantley.

  Further information about the Neighbourhood Centre is available on Yourlife Doncaster, on Facebook and St Paul’s Parish Website (Social Action).