The journey into community volunteering all started for Steph and James Clarke when their son’s school was closed down. Frustrated by the lack of consultation and opportunity to engage with the process, they rallied together with other local people to protest about the closure. They lost that fight, but it made their resolve to get the community together even stronger.
'We love where we live, and we value our community so we wanted to find a way for people to connect and find out what is happening locally,' said Steph. After trying several different methods, in 2009 they launched WV11.co.uk, a community information website. 'We looked everywhere for things that were happening locally and just kept sharing and sharing. Eventually, community groups started coming to us and asking us to advertise their events — we now have nearly 9000 likes on our Facebook page and nearly 3000 Twitter followers, where we’re connected to our community daily.'
Both Steph and James soon found themselves being involved with job fairs, community fun days, Christmas light switch-on events and an organic garden. 'We were also invited onto a local neighbourhood partnerships group and we both became trustees of our local community association, the charity that runs The Hub at Ashmore Park,' said James.
The Hub is a newly refurbished building where Steph and James were both keen to ensure there was some provision for young people. ‘It is important to have a mix of activities for different age groups,' said Steph, 'so we set up a working group to input into how the building was formed and what would happen in it once it was open.'
What they did
Once it opened, the couple wasted no time in running activities for young people. For the younger children and families, they have fun days and seasonal events, such as Easter egg hunts and Storytime with Santa. They also run a general youth club where teenagers can come and use the sports facilities, take part in craft activities, play on the computers or use the dance mats.
In 2014 Steph and James attended an Eden Community Camp. 'I’d been thinking about setting up a cinema as part of the community centre but I thought it would be cost prohibitive,' said Steph. However, after finding out more about such a project from Eden, she realised that wasn't the case. With support from the others at the centre, they soon launched a regular family film club. 'We also used other ideas from Eden such as lantern making, scrap art and stencil making and incorporated them into our youth activities.'
'Meeting people through Eden who have had shared experiences was really inspiring,' said James, 'It was like having a shot of enthusiasm in the arm.' They both advocate the value of connecting with other like-minded people near to where they live. Steph and James have since organised a Big Lunch as there are so many local people who've gone to a Community Camp who are in touch now. 'There is a strong local network forming in this area which will really help towards making the whole Eden concept sustainable in the long term.'