Focus on Community House, Harrogate

Caroline Shead working in the Volunteer Centre in Community House.  (130508M1d)

Caroline Shead working in the Volunteer Centre in Community House. (130508M1d)

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Hidden in Harrogate town centre, Community House provides facilities for over 20 charities. We take a tour, and meet those who make the House tick.

A community hub which over 20 charities call home is helping Harrogate causes beat the pinch.

Community House on East parade provides facilities for voluntary and charitable organisations, including 27 offices, two meeting rooms and a resource centre.

The non-profit making house is owned free-of-mortgage, and its board of trustees and in-house manager work to keep rent costs low and make full use of the building.

I was given a tour of the building, by site manager Errol Levine, a man whom I suspect never stops working, and it is a rabbit warren of good causes.

Everywhere you turn, there are offices and meeting rooms, and it is difficult to imagine how many of the groups that call it home would thrive otherwise.

Chairman of the trustees Peter Wood joined our tour of the facility, and said: “It is a privilege to serve as a trustee to such an important organisation.

“Community House enables so many front line services to make a difference to the Harrogate community.”

Opened in 1997, the house has not raised rent fees in three years.

This is a rare item of financial good news for those working in the voluntary sector, who are finding times even harder than most at the moment.

Mr Wood said: “Community House helps groups do the important work, and never more so than in the current economic climate, which can be difficult for voluntary groups.”

The house was set up at its East Parade premises thanks to lottery funding and donations.

The voluntary sector in Harrogate benefits initially as the Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service is basedat the House, and can provide information for those involved with the groups and for those who want to find out more about what is on offer or how they can help.

That particular service can provide information about local agencies.

A house spokesperson said: “Community House provides a facility enabling the diverse range of voluntary and charitable organisations that are based there to work together.

“It is easier to talk to someone when their office is next to yours than if it is on the other side of town.”

Community House is experiencing high numbers of visitors coming through the doors at the moment.

The house spokesperson continued: “There are two superbly equipped meeting rooms that can be hired. they are used by educational organisations like U3AQ and WEA as well as voluntary and charitable organisations, political, religious and statutory bodies indeed any organisation who wants an up-to-date room to hold either a one-off meeting or a series of classes.

“There’s a well-stocked resource area, as well run by the Harrogate and Ripon centres for voluntary service so that if you need information about local agencies, that’s where you’ll find it.”

I was encouraged to learn that currently all the 27 offices in the building are occupied, and rarely do any become available.

Many of the organisations based at the house find themselves in these very pages.

Examples of those based at Community House are The Volunteer Bureau, Harrogate Easy Living Project, Opening Doors, Open Country and the Harrogate Home Improvement Agency.

The Royal British Legion Victory Branch runs its unparallelled Poppy Appeal from the centre, and are always looking for volunteers for the busy October and November period.

The house’s trustees make it clear what they hope to achieve with the centre.

A spokesperson said: “The trustees are there to provide affordable, accessible, multi-purpose accommodation for voluntary and charitable organisations in a town centre location.

“Community House pays its way because as well as owning the building free of mortgage, the trustees are determined to maintain rents at an affordable level by sharing overheads, by managing the building and costs efficiently and by making full use of the accommodation.”

They continued: “All the offices are full.

“When one becomes vacant, which doesn’t happen very often, it is quickly snapped up.

“The meeting rooms too have a busy and varied schedule.”

It is not unusual for 2,000 people to use Community House over the space of a month.

It is clear that running such a facility takes a lot of work, and the house, as well as those groups it serves, is always keen to hear from those who wish to get involved.

Mr Wood said: “It is important that people know we have a range of services they can access.

“We are always on the lookout for new blood, so anyone interested in supporting Community House by becoming a trustee should contact the Volunteer Bureau.”

Call the Bureau on 01423 509004.

Other charities at the house are Supporting Older People, the Harrogate and District Deaf Society and the General Office of the Harrogate New Life Church.

Community House is hugely important to those groups that use it, and my tour and discussion with Errol and Peter revealed just how much goes on at the centre, and how little some may be aware of it.

The rooms and facilities on offer give plenty of organisations a chance to complete their work in a way that otherwise may just not be possible.

In tough times, and being based in Harrogate, such work is significant.

Contacts: How to get involved

The charities and organisations based at Community House meet at different times through the week.

Details of how to contact these services are available from Community House reception, which is open from 9am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Contact reception to book meeting rooms.

Call 01423503700 or email errol4463@harrogate communityhouse.org

Those wishing to visit the centre can look at its website http://www.harrogatecommunity house.org

The House is based at 46-50 East Parade in Harrogate town centre.