What, how, where, when, who?
A community hub designed by local people but as a minimum the vision includes: co-working space (main income generator) and social enterprise incubator, flexible creche for children of freelancers, community collaboration and connection space, community kitchen, sub-leased office space.
To consistently enable every child and adult in Bearwood and surrounding areas to connect, collaborate and create in ways that are right and beneficial for them, and in ways that foster belonging, ownership and autonomy.
An open-to-all community hub sustained by a welcoming and happy, productive and professional workspace for commuters, homeworkers and business owners. A place where everyone can connect, create and collaborate.
Everyone is valued
Everyone is welcome
Everyone has something to offer
The image below depicts what kinds of activities might be possible in Bearwood’s hub. This is a start only, based on conversations last year, and needs to be questioned, built on and amended. It’s to help people imagine what Bearwood Community Hub could be, rather than a plan of what it will be.
Last year a number of different ideas had been surfacing in Bearwood: alternative models of childcare being tested as part of the #RadicalChildcare movement; interest in co-working space; the potential in co-working space to enable a wider community hub for all sorts of collaborative community activity; We Are Bearwood research that told us that whilst many are connected in Bearwood to positive social activities here, many still are marginalised and unaware of opportunities available to them, or don’t know where to go to connect. We want to explore the potential for a space on the high street that connects people - to each other, to the parks, to the library, to the community centres, to the projects, to the businesses, to the community networks that are so important for individual and community wellbeing.
These ideas culminated in a 5 week programme of activity funded by UnLtd and Big Lottery Fund through #RadicalChildcare, to test the concept and ideas that had been developing. At Lightwoods House we ran a pop-up coworking space and flexible creche on a Monday morning for 4 weeks, booking out all 20 workspaces and 10 creche spaces within days. On 2 June 2018, in the middle of our 5 week period, we held a community day at the Dorothy Parkes Centre where over 100 people attended to experience the kinds of activities that a community hub might be able to offer: creative play; facilitated discussion about the potential of such spaces, including speakers from across Birmingham; a community lunch, a repair workshop; an inspiration exhibition (look at what others have - could we have it in Bearwood?); and finally, a graphic facilitator who noted peoples ideas, enthusiasms and visions.
The interest was strong and the workspace a sell-out. This, coupled with demographic statistics about level of needs locally and We Are Bearwood’s survey which highlighted the concerns and wishes of over 600 local people, convinced the team who had so far been involved to set up a Community Interest Company called Bearwood Community Hub CIC.
Having a legal entity meant that we could apply for funding to pursue the idea without being dependent solely on finite volunteer energy.
In September 2018 we were successful in receiving £5k from SCVO for community engagement to co-design a community hub (or whatever the community end up specifying it to be). This funding would not cover pay for any of the leaders though, and so it was decided to apply to the Big Lottery Fund (now The National Lottery Communities Fund, TNLCF), to ensure we would have an engagement budget to meet our vision and would provide Sally with a community wage to undertake the development work. At the end of January 2019 we were awarded a £29k development grant by TNLCF, to match-fund the engagement events costs, part-time community wage for project lead Sally Taylor, legal costs and architectural feasibility, as we realised that any space in which we sought to build a ‘home’ would require architectural assessment and visioning.
Our ethos is to build a social mission-led community hub as a community - not by an eager few, as that wouldn’t be sustainable or create a proposition that is attractive to many. By ‘build’ we don’t necessarily mean bricks and mortar (although that also may come to pass), we mean build together our vision, values, what the place should feel like, what services should be offered, how money should be spent. To do this we will embark on a period of engagement over autumn 2019 and beyond, to develop the vision and business plan.
We have entered into a partnership with St Mary’s Church to explore the feasibility of developing a community hub that could be based in the community buildings part of the church.
There are a number of options for where a community hub could be situated in Bearwood. It is our firm belief that if we want to be open and accessible to all in our communities - whether or not they are digitally connected - we need to be on or near where people are - Bearwood’s high street. We need to be at the heart of our community, visible to people walking by, and welcoming to everyone.
Options include empty retail space, converting a residential property, or utilizing other unused space (e.g. factory space on Beakes Street has been suggested; Thimblemill Baths will be vacant in a couple of years; the Windsor is up for sale). These options might still be pursued, but throughout all our consultation and thinking and visioning, we (and many we have spoken to) come back to one location: the currently underused community spaces at St Mary’s. We understand that these are underused for a variety of reasons: building disrepair being a significant issue; volunteer capacity; costs such as heating.
Why St Mary’s?
We have experienced the potential at St Mary’s for community partnership in the past, when the church hall was open and used for many events, and now as they continue to offer Saturday coffee mornings and other events such as supporting DKMS.
St Mary’s Church has the enviable position of being at the very heart of our community; it’s location is perfect for encouraging more people through the doors and letting people know that this space is open to all.
We understand that there is a need for increased income and congregation numbers at the church. Evidence cited by other churches and the Diocese suggests that the above point would increase the likelihood of this.
The space within the community complex is large and varied, which is important to us in terms of the viability of the hub and the ambition we are trying to achieve for business viability and social impact. At the same time it can be a burden to the church. We may be able to reduce that burden.
Potential of St Mary’s being a supportive partner rather than a commercial landlord. The financial modelling so far has shown that a peppercorn rent may be necessary in the first instance as the mission-led business builds. If we can find a partner who believes in what we are trying to do and will consider partnership through affordable rent, then we have the best chance of success. A commercial landlord on the high street is unlikely to be open to this.
We believe in the vital community function that churches and other faith based organisations play in our communities. If there’s a way to support the church to grow and to protect community buildings for years to come, then we would love to be a part of it.
Phase 1, Autumn 2019: Community engagement about the church (community spaces) site and possible increased use of the site by the community – the group would like to rent spaces for activities at the church on an occasional basis as the relationship with St. Mary’s develops and a longer term business plan is developed. A pop-up co-working space may be developed.
Phase 2, Jan/Feb 2020: Architectural Feasibility Study with the agreement of the PCC. To cover the church hall and wider church site, including engagement with broader community than previously and to include external repairs. The expectation would be that the PCC and wider church members are fully involved if they wish to be. Together any legal arrangements would be explored to develop a formal partnership that could support the proposed capital development and this would be incorporated into the business plan.
Phase 3, April 2020: Bid writing for future capital and revenue costs while community activity continues.
Phase 4, Jan 2021 onwards: Construction phase managed to enable church and community activity to be sustained.
Phase 5, TBC: A fully functioning community hub working collaboratively with the church. It is likely to involve employed staff and volunteers leading imaginative activities that respond to community needs and opportunities. Initial ideas are co-working space, a flexible creche, flexible community welcome and connection space, and an office base.
The organisation is being led by Sally Taylor in open collaboration with people who live and work in Bearwood and surrounding neighbourhoods, with an engagement programme funded by SCVO and The National Lottery Communities Fund.
Sally is supported by a start-up Board of community activists and leaders who are pooling their knowledge of running buildings, charities, social enterprises and engagement programmes. We want our Board to be representative of the community in which we live. Will you join us? Email email@example.com to say “yes!”.
Julie McKirdy has run our thriving local library (a hub of sorts) for twenty years, managing its extensive activities programme, its budget and several staff
Sally Taylor has worked in funding for over 15 years, advising and supporting charitable organisations and social enterprises about effective organisational management, income strategy, evaluation and learning and leading large scale procurement and commissioning contracts.
Amy Martin is a co-Director of Impact Hub Birmingham CIC co-working space and creche, and leads the #RadicalChildcare programme from there.
Nicola McAteer co-founded a successful social enterprise in Glasgow before moving to Bearwood 10 years ago and now manages a freelance career as a musician, working mainly with people who experience mental ill-health.
Jo Capper is a local artist and creative producer who has run a food co-operative in Bearwood and designed and managed arts degree programmes at Birmingham City University. She is currently Artistic Director at Grand Union in Birmingham.