The Funder's View
The story of the Midgley Community Room is an inspiring one. A group of extremely dedicated volunteers worked with great initiative and resolve to secure the purchase and conversion of the building. At times, volunteers worked on an almost full time basis to make the project work, turning their hand to a wide range of tasks, from the complexities of community share legalities right the way through to stripping the lathe and plaster from crumbling walls. This is a project which fits every criteria of the Leader programme in terms of its community engagement and vision, and it has been a privilege to support it.
Where is the project?
Midgley, is a South Pennines village of around 400 homes. A ribbon of traditional west Yorkshire millstone grit housing follows the route of an ancient pre-Roman road, perched high above the steep sided Calder Valley and the towns of Mytholmroyd, Luddenden Foot and Hebden Bridge. A number of hamlets and farmsteads dot the hillsides around, but it is essentially an isolated village with access via steep and narrow lanes with a limited bus service.
The Project's Story
As the Millenium turned, Midgley village was at crisis point - it was losing the village shop and post office, the pubs were long closed and the chapel had been converted into housing. Other local amenities had dwindled and all but disappeared. In the face of shrinking public services and absolutely nowhere for the local community to meet, the Midgley Community Forum came into being - a group of committed and spirited individuals - they secured a space in the heart of the village and then set-up and opened a village shop with a community room above at a time when a new village shop opening certainly bucked the trend.
The shop opened from 9am to 7pm most days and was staffed entirely by local volunteers. It was a much needed resource for the village particularly given the scarcity of public transport and the difficulty of the terrain, so it was well supported by Midgley residents. Consequently the whole project became a phenomenal success, so much so that other village communities around the country have followed in the footsteps of Midgley and copied their model. Community groups regularly visit to see for themselves how it has been done and there is even a similar community shop in Ambridge, the fictitious village of The Archers.
When the space above the shop was opened and used as a Community Room, the social side of this community enterprise really expanded and the rooms became the hub of the village. This is where residents and visitors met, exchanged news, had coffee and a cake or a drink in the evening, there were social events, classes, quizzes and annual get-togethers as well as official meetings, children’s parties and the inevitable weddings and funerals.
However, six years into the fabulous success story the whole project was almost de-railed and the story could have ended in a disappointing full-stop when the owner of the building asked the community to vacate the premises.
“This was when the really hard work began” said Alistair Grant, the Chair of Midgley Community Forum, “18 months of searching for alternative premises was soul destroying and so when the Old Co-Op building came onto the market we knew we had to go for it, but this time we needed the building to be ours”
The old Co-Op was purchased by means of a community share issue, where everyone in the village of Midgley was offered shares in the building. Additional money for purchase and conversion costs came from a range of funding pots, including Leader.
Purpose built, in a perfect location, in the middle of the village, the building was in need of serious renovation. It took a great deal of hard work and some serious investment to bring the building back into a usable condition. Thanks to committed effort from 70 active volunteers and in particular a few key individuals, the Co-Op building has now reverted to its original purpose of serving the community.
The Community Shop and Community Room share a street frontage which is welcoming and fully accessible. Judging by the list ‘What’s On in the Community Room’, there are a large number of people with a wide range of ages passing through the doors. There is café style seating with tables for 40 plus, with more tables and chairs borrowed from the United Reform Church, Luddendenfoot, whenever they are needed. There is a fully-equipped kitchen and service counter with a bar and accessible toilets. There are public events almost every day and the room can be hired for private functions too; the room is available to all Midgley residents, whenever it is needed.
The weekly coffee mornings are extremely popular, when the well-deserved reputation of Francis Tighe and Yvonne Demaine as accomplished bakers brings in regular visitors from miles around, with a couple of cyclists making regular 25 mile round trips just to have a cake and a coffee. There are weekly sessions of children’s singing and a pre-school playgroup for toddlers, there are a couple of Yoga classes each week, a Book Exchange once a fortnight with a Pudding Club, Quiz Nights, Wine Tasting and Gardening Club happening every month or so.
Occasionally there are Local History talks, charity auctions and meetings for a variety of local events and then there are annual events like Christmas Dinner, Burns Supper, the Well-Dressing Breakfast as well as local speciality catering event Dock Pudding cooking on Spaw Sunday. There is innovation too! A ‘pop-up’ restaurant was a recent hit and then in response to a glut of bacon in the shop, Café Culture came into being, when bacon butties were served alongside the Sunday papers, sounds like bliss!
On a more prosaic level, the rooms are used for Fete, Barn Dance and Summer Seaside trip meetings, and it was here that interviews took place when the local school was recruiting a new Head Teacher.
“Everybody in the village is welcome to use these rooms, and most people do at some point or another”, said John Benson, community stalwart and member of the Social Group, “from toddlers parties, to engagements, weddings and the inevitable funerals, most people pass through theses doors at some point, it has become a central part of village life”.
John continued, “Village life is what these community rooms have brought back to Midgley, these days there are people walking to and fro in the village, people see each other and get to know each other. There are less car journeys, more casual meetings, more chatting and a real sense of belonging.”
Midgley villagers have taken responsibility for their village life and as a consequence their sense of place has increased, they see themselves as being part of the community, and that can only be a good thing - long may it continue.
Project Outputs and Outcomes
• Community room retained for a wide variety of community uses in perpetuity providing an anchor in the community for future generations.
• Over 400 households provided with retained local facility : 1040 population (this figure is number of households on newsletter distribution list). This figure does not however capture those who use the facility and attend events who are not from the immediate catchment area.
• Key support services will be located within and operate from the building for the community improving community access to these.
• Ownership of the building increases the motivation of those volunteers who run and manage the facility, knowing that all returns go back directly to the community.
• Sense of place significantly reinforced through pride of ownership and achievement.
• Historical continuum maintained – the building was acquired in 1861 by the fledgling Cooperative society movement. The community ownership re-establishes a linkage with the old cooperative movement which was also central to village life.
• 40 volunteers run the shop and community room. They continue to gain retail experience that are transferrable to the job market
• Stronger community has been built; isolation has been reduced, social networks have been strengthened and community differences harmonised.
• This is an exemplar project – it is a model of a community business which has effectively used a community share issue. As such, a number of other interested communities have been signposted for advice to the management committee.