Lighthouse Team Jump For Joy
Birmingham Construction Company revisits Dudley Community Centre
Dudley Community Church is an integral part of the local community offering support services to those in need. And where the individual’s needs go beyond what the church can offer, just across the car park, you will find The Lighthouse Centre, a purpose-built community centre we completed in 2020. Prior to The Lighthouse Centre, the services were offered from the same site in a building not ideally suited for the purpose. The building, previously a public house, “The British Oak”, and known for its real ale, was converted in 2003, offering services to the community that included:
- Food Bank
- Soup Kitchen
- Money Management Advice
- Addiction support
- Play therapy
The centre’s success meant an increase in visitors, and in time the demand outgrew the facility. You can learn more about how Gravitas Build, a Birmingham ConstructionCompany built the project as we have already written extensively about the project. In addition, a builders gallery and four videos were created detailing the journey of the project. Unfortunately, Covid-19 interrupted that process, so the final video was never completed.
Where are we now?
A year on from completion, and in the absence of the final video detailing the build, we thought we’d take a different tack with this article by interviewing the staff who actually use the building.
Pastor Joe Hayes has been the minister in residence at Dudley Community Church for the past 13 years, with his wife Lizzie, “The Lighthouse Centre” manager.
I interviewed Pastor Joe to see how they were getting on with the new building and some background information on how the new build came about. He explained:
The old building had served its purpose well, but it was an ex pub, and its layout wasn’t really conducive to offering the services we specialised in. With more and more people using the services, it was apparent that we could help a lot more people with a purpose-designed building.
Me: So when did you decide to take a serious look at developing a purpose-built community centre to replace the existing building?
Pastor Joe: In 2015, I remember that things started to get a little more serious, and we started to investigate whether the dream could become a reality. With a project like this, funding is always the issue, we could have all the plans in the world, but if we couldn’t get the funding, we’d never get a shovel in the ground. We were doing all we could do to raise the money, but it was hard. We needed a lot of money. We were doing all the usual things to raise funds, grants, church offerings etc., and we got a lot of support from the local community. Still, the actual game-changer came in the shape of a lottery grant which totalled £480,000. Another notable donation was from a local builders merchants who wished to remain anonymous. Still, an offer of £10,000.00 worth of building materials was most welcome and made a real difference.
Me: Outside of funding, what were your biggest challenges?
Pastor Joe: Although we had an architect on board, we were making many decisions ourselves. We knew nothing about the construction industry, the processes involved or how to create a building as big as this; we were totally naive. Fortunately, as word got around about what we were doing, two of the congregation stepped forward to help. Andy Hawkes had during his working life been a Project Manager working on a variety of larger projects. Dave Baker, another congregation member, had specialised in Mechanical & Electrical installations during his working life which is a significant part of any building project. They were both instrumental in helping to pull the project together. Many other congregation members were also helpful in many different ways; it was a great team effort. We are grateful to everyone who was able to help out in whatever capacity.
Me: And the build itself?
Pastor Joe: As a building project, I know the team at Gravitas Build faced many challenges, including having to engineer the land due to mining operations discovered early on. This had a knock-on effect on the type of foundations specified, which I know created delays for the team at the time. Of course, all of that pales into insignificance when in March 2020, the pandemic hit. I remember that we worked very closely with the Gravitas team at the time. Fortunately, they were in a position through the careful management of their health & safety to continue with the project completing the build in the summer of 2020.
Me: While we’re talking about Gravitas Build, how did you find it working with the team? Were you satisfied with the level of communication during what must have been a challenging time?
Pastor Joe: I found it to be a very positive experience. The Gravitas team was always willing to help. There seemed to be an appreciation for what we were trying to deliver as a community project. There was a genuine feeling that we were building a legacy project, something the community would benefit from for many years to come. And the Gravitas guys were always friendly and approachable whilst still getting the job done, and we’ve been absolutely delighted with the finish. I should also say that Steven, the project lead, worked tirelessly to ensure we had the best price for materials and/or labour. Without his help, it could have made things challenging for us towards the end of the project.
Me: So, I see that the centre is now up and running; when did you open the doors and start providing services?
Pastor Joe: We officially opened in August 2020. However, as you can appreciate, we were (still are) in the middle of the pandemic, so it wasn’t quite the start we’d hoped for. That said, we’ve been able to help many people during the time that we’ve been open, but I’d like to hand you over to the Office Manager/Administrator Yan who can tell you a little more about the services we offer and how we’ve been helping people.
Yan: All things considered, we’ve been able to support over 2000 people over the last year. The services people have benefited from include help with bereavement, anxiety/depression, addiction relationship issues, low self-esteem/bullying, social phobia, and PTSD for adults.
Relationship counselling is another area where we can help, often between husband and wife, and their families too. We also have expertise working with children, supporting 3-18-year-olds with a variety of services. And the team have been quite innovative too, even offering long-distance online counselling where the need has arisen.
Locally, we also get a lot of referrals from other organisations, CAM’s, Schools, the Job Centre, and Dr’s surgery’s, to name but a few.
Me: I know the building was designed specifically for this purpose, is the layout of the rooms working for you?
Yan: Yes, it’s worked out really well. There are two entrances to the building, one for Heavens Kitchen, the other for the counselling services. It allows a high degree of privacy for those going through what could be a challenging time in their lives. At the same time, we can quickly move the seating and table’s around in the Heavens Kitchen dining area to create a more open space to hold workshops. In the past, we’ve held workshops on Happiness, Dumping Depression, and Addiction.
For the purpose of counselling, we have several bespoke counselling rooms and a play therapy room for the younger children. In so many ways, the centre is perfect, and we’re really proud of what we have here.
Me: Thanks Yan, its sounds like a great place to work. You mentioned Heavens Kitchen, and I’d now like to bring in Samantha Paul (Sam). She heads up the kitchen/dining area team, otherwise known as “Lighthouse Café”.
Hi Sam, tell me about the Lighthouse Café and what you do here.
Sam: Hi. Well, due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to open until May this year (2021), but we hit the floor running. We’re open to the public between 10am to 3pm every day. On Monday nights, between 6-7pm, we open our doors to the local community, helping to feed those in need of additional help, the homeless or people who have simply fallen on hard times, this project is called Heaven’s Kitchen run by volunteers from Dudley Community Church. We can easily cater for as many as 40 to 60 people on a Monday night, providing a three-course meal. It really highlights just how much our services are needed in the area. During the day, as well as being open to the public, we have several local groups that use the space. This includes a local dementia group, a group that supports those with learning difficulties, an elderly keep-fit group and a craft group. Of those people that have some sort of physical impairment, particularly those who use wheelchairs, they all say how easy it is to access the building. Its flat car park and wide doorway make it a lot easier for people to use the facility.
Me: And Pastor Joe mentioned that you were helping schools too!
Sam: Yes, that’s right. In support of the Marcus Rashford campaign to get the Government to provide free school meals during school holidays, we’ve been able to provide over 2000 meals for local schools. It’s something we’re really proud of. We’ve also received notification that we’ve been awarded a 5-star Food & Hygiene rating by Dudley Food and Trading Standards, something we are really pleased with.
Me: It sounds like you are making a tangible impact on the community Sam, well done.
Me: Pastor Joe, you seem to have a great team here, and I know it’s early days yet, but hopefully, you will continue to grow your services and continue to have a positive impact on the local area. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Pastor Joe: The project is making a significant difference to the local area, but it’s still early days yet. We’d really just like everyone to know that we’re here to help and in whatever way we can. Also, since opening, we’ve been able to provide employment to 5 counselling staff and 3 permanent kitchen staff. In addition, we also have 3 kick-starters working in the kitchen, gaining valuable work experience that will support them in future careers. Looking to the future, I can only see things getting even better.
Me: Thank you for your time.
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