DISHFORTH Yorkshire is an isolated camp with few facilities for families to go to after working hours – making downtime difficult especially when serving personnel are away.
Fay and serving husband Chris used to walk their dog past an old pavilion on the base and felt it was a shame it had been left to go to ruin.
She explained: “We often discussed how much a building like that could offer the community and, after hearing others talk in the same way, decided we should think of a use for it which would benefit everyone. We settled on the idea of a community cafe where spouses could volunteer and hopefully gain qualifications along the way.”
After speaking to Heledd Kendrick, founder of Recruit for Spouses, the idea of creating an office space where spouses could run their businesses was agreed.
“Aligned with the cafe project and on the back of the success of the gardening club, started by Padre James Harding the previous year, we came up with the idea of creating allotment spaces alongside the cafe, which would give families their own area to create produce and hopefully a greater sense of community cohesion,” said Fay.
The main issue was gaining permission but once they had the support of the commanding officer, meetings with Defence Infrastructure Organisation and contractors were set up and interest began to build: “Once people heard about our idea, they were enthusiastic,” Fay continued. “[Gaining] permission to refurbish the building took about five months. During this time and with the generosity of a local contractor loaning us a digger, work on the allotments got underway and spurred interest in the community.
“We secured an initial £1,500 in funding from the local council and made a successful bid to The Royal British Legion for an external grant, receiving £9,500. We could finally get the renovation underway.”
The initial work inside the pavilion was a family affair – Fay, Chris and their two children helping at the weekends.
“Our kids thought it was great knocking plaster off the walls,” added Fay. “A local company installed windows, doors and facias at cost price, which made a huge difference to our budget. All the woodwork in the pavilion was completed by two soldiers who gave up evenings and weekends. As the project moved forward more and more people offered to assist with painting and finishing touches.”
The community also came together for a painting party, without which Fay said that they wouldn’t have finished in time for the grand opening.
“We were so thankful. In the run up to the opening we spent many late nights in the cafe, including our first wedding anniversary where we enjoyed a pizza, a bottle of wine and lots of painting.”
Both the regiment and the welfare team have been very supportive of the project and its impact has been positive.
There are family events including Dishfest – a summer festival – family barbecues, sports events, a weekend cafe and family days at the pavilion. It also offers an additional venue to hire for parties, which has helped generate money for welfare activities.
A local unit has offered its apprentices to complete a few remaining tasks as part of their training and, with the kitchen up-and-running, the master chef is putting cafe volunteers through their food hygiene certificates. There are also plans to create a bike track on the waste ground with a nature trail built in for the younger children.
Army spouse Kate McCullough said: “Anyone living locally couldn’t fail to notice how much time and effort Fay and Chris have gone to.
“They have ploughed hours into the project. Without their vision and commitment, it wouldn’t have happened. Fay has an eye for interior design, so not only does the community have a functional space, it looks beautiful – a rarity on army camps. We have a lovely, comfortable, safe place to spend time together, as families and as a community. It’s a real asset.”
Fay’s advice is not to be scared to ask. Nearly everyone they approached agreed to help, although it can take a while, so factor this in to any plans. “The power of social media is immense,” said Fay. “Contacting companies via Facebook allows them to share their involvement to gain free advertising.”
Do you have a person who works hard to improve army family life in your area? To nominate them for this award, email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Community Champion’ in the subject and a summary of why you think they should win.
Fay is our summer Community Champion and wins a Rosie-Lee DAB Digital Radio & Bluetooth speaker (RRP £129.99) from British brand VQ, which has also offered all Army&You readers an exclusive offer to save £50 on a Rosie-Lee. Visit MyVQ.co.uk and use code ARMYVQ on checkout.