Friday, 30 June 2017

Volunteers: The lifeblood of our community - my Coalville Times column

If you are ever suffering from insomnia and counting sheep or a milky drink simply doesn’t work then you can do a lot worse than looking at a map of County Council electoral divisions. I have to be honest when I say that isn’t one of the most scintillating reads of your life and, unless you are something of a political anorak, you could very easily benefit from the soporific qualities of such a document.

You might wonder how arbitrary boundaries were arrived at, you might question how villages have been grouped together or sometimes, even more interestingly, divided. Just how did anyone split Coalville North from Coalville South? You get the idea.

But if you do look at a map you will see that amongst County Council divisions my old patch of Whitwick, never knowingly called Whitwick and Thringstone or latterly including parts of Oaks in Charnwood, was an unusual beast.

Whitwick is a strange division because for the most part it doesn’t benefit from County Council money in the same way as other areas. It doesn’t have museums or resource centres or even a library in the same vein as many towns and yet it isn’t rural enough to benefit from public money for high speed internet or those ever diminishing subsidised bus routes.

When residents used to ask me what they received directly in the patch from their expensive council tax my answer usually resorted to highways and potholes. That’s when the expletives usually started to flow and I made for my quick escape.

There was however one notable caveat to my potholes script. For many years the County Council had provided significant resources to the running of Thringstone Community Centre, a building generously donated to the people of the village for their education and recreation by Victorian philanthropist Charles Booth; and which since the 1950’s had been in the hands of County Hall and operationally managed under a convoluted constitution of management and executive committees. For a number of years I was a local authority appointed nominee on those bodies.

As county council budgets tightened and we witnessed the closure of treasures such as Snibston Discovery Park it was clear that at some point the writing would soon be on the wall for Thringstone Community Centre, reputed to be the first such building of its kind in the whole country.

Knowing the fabulous set of volunteers dedicated to the Community Centre as I do my approach with the political administration at the County Council was always the same. The Centre could forge a brighter future and become an entirely independent entity free of local authority constraints, all that was needed was the time, resources and assistance to help them achieve that.

In fairness the politicians and senior officers in Glenfield listened to my pleas and agreed to help in the Community Centre’s bid for self sufficiency. Last Friday, at a meeting of the County Council’s Cabinet, and on the basis that reassurance has been provided that the volunteers plans are robust and sensible, approval was finally given to transfer the building to a brand new charitable organisation.

In the coming months all of the t’s will be crossed and i’s dotted and by the autumn Thringstone Community Centre and the volunteers that run it will become the masters of their own future.

There is little point in this column of discussing at length the concept of austerity, or living by your means as others would call it. A tightening of the public purse strings has been voted for again and again by the electorate over this past decade.

No, today I want to pay a huge tribute to those amazing volunteers who are the lifeblood of our communities. Where would we be without the small number, and sadly it is too small, who give hours and hours of their time and effort to make sure that every resident can enjoy these wonderful public assets?

You may well never have heard of names like Nita Pearson or Mike Statham or Ray Woodward and yet without people like these, and a smattering of others in every community who go that extra mile we wouldn’t be able enjoy the local theatre productions or art clubs or night classes that so many of us do.

Around this area there is small battalion of unsung heroes who make living where we do just that little bit better. If you wonder who does the litter picking in our streets or replanting vandalised flowerbeds in our parks more often than not the answer isn’t ‘the council’ but just an ordinary person who wants to give a little bit back.

And the beauty, of course, is that we can all be one of those unsung heroes. All you have to do is decide that you want to play your part.

And if, for whatever reason, you can’t volunteer yourself you wouldn’t believe just how much a simple thank you is valued by those that do.

To each and everyone of those unsung heroes: Thank you.    

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