In early 2016, I was asked by Steve Rose, Catalyst’s Chief Executive Officer, if I would be interested in joining the Committee of Norton Glebe Residents Association.  They oversee the management of the Community Centre on the estate’s Hanover Parade.

I agreed to join but then thought, what did I really know about all of the Centre’s activities?  At that point I’d lived there for 13 years and had only been into the Centre to cast my vote in three General Elections and various other democratic exercises!  I’d never visited it for leisure purposes.

While driving past, I’d seen various children of all ages dashing eagerly through the doors, clutching cake, gifts and balloons for birthday parties.  I’d also seen several women with exercise mats heading with determination towards the Centre for ladies’ keep fit.  Finally, I’d tried in vain to avoid all the various prominent promotions (posters, tarpaulins) advertising Wednesday’s Slimming World sessions.  Even though I knew I should consider them.  I still haven’t done so!

So my first few evening Committee meetings were very much fact-finding exercises and getting to know my fellow members, none of whom I’ve met before.  I was very pleased they were switched to daytimes as my concentration occasionally wobbled at 8.30pm on a Tuesday!  I also found out, for the first time and to my surprise, that the Centre had been gifted as a community resource by the estate’s original builders.

After several months, Councillor Norma Wilburn asked if I would assume the vacant role of Chair.  To be honest, I was a little overawed as I’d never taken such a role and was such a newcomer to the Committee.  I aimed to give it my best and my first task was to highlight the Centre’s offerings to the local community by hosting a relaunch event.

Several people had asked me where the Centre was and what it did.  The relaunch in June 2017 give an ideal opportunity to showcase its activities.  The Committee worked very hard to stage the event, officially opened by the Mayor of Stockton.  It was a pleasure to see so many people from the community come to visit and see the artistic contributions of children from Glebe Primary School, who had entered a whole school competition to show aspects of life in Norton.  The winning entries are now permanently displayed in the Centre.

Several milestones have passed since then.  In autumn 2017 the day-to-day management was taken over by Onsite, who successfully oversee several other community centres.  This has been a really positive move, as Onsite’s services include not only caretaking but also the Facebook account.  The Facebook page has another 100 followers and likes, with more positive posts going out daily.

There have been 33 party bookings since November 2017, totaling one party per weekend.  Onsite hope to increase this to two parties per weekend.

In June, the Committee successfully applied for Lottery Awards for All Funding of nearly £10k to refurbish the Centre’s kitchen.  The first major refurbishment of the kitchen was completed in July and will be a huge resource for all of the Centre’s users.

And a huge goal was reached in July, when the Association achieved charitable status following an application to the Charity Commission.  This will give the Association to apply for a range of grants in the future so its development can continue.

A lot has happened since early 2016 and I’ve had so much invaluable help and advice during this busy time, from my fellow Committee members, Councillors David and Norma Wilburn, my colleague James Hadman and Martin Landers and Lynn Paley from Onsite.

A major pleasure has been getting to know the committee members, hearing about their lives before retirement and their love of living on the Glebe.  I particularly miss Maureen Watson, who sadly died last summer.  Maureen worked as on the buses locally all her life, qualifying as a bus driver but choosing to stay as a clippy (for those younger readers, this role involved moving around the bus, taking payment for and issuing bus tickets).  Maureen was one of the very first to move onto the estate in the early 1970s.

Maureen’s friend Pat Monkhouse has also become my friend.  Pat has lived on the Estate for over 30 years and was a joineress at the former Hills Factory in Stockton.  I always have a special place for Hills, as my late Grandad Albert Cavanagh worked for them until retirement.  Hills made special accommodation for Grandad when he returned to Stockton, following over three years’ captivity as a POW in World War II.

So my initial apprehension about becoming Committee Chair was very misplaced.  I’ve very much enjoyed taking part in the Centre’s development and partially overcome my dislike of public speaking, having had to do so twice, at the relaunch and our recent Annual General Meeting!

For more information about the Norton Glebe Community Centre please visit their Facebook page

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