Captain Si Macey (RLC), the unit welfare officer from 17 Port and Maritime Regt at Marchwood, Hampshire, explains how a grant has helped to transform an under-used building into a vibrant social hub…
“During lockdown we managed to turn our community centre into a facility that far exceeds what it was 12 months ago,” he says. “I came into this job in September 2019 and noticed straight away that it was in need of a drastic overhaul; it wasn’t very inviting and apart from a once-a-week coffee morning for families, there weren’t many activities on offer.”
Si made an application through the Armed Forces Covenant Fund, which can offer a maximum of £20,000 to a project, and, in February last year, he was successful.
“On the application, we outlined three key areas: Healthy Minds, Hear Me and Unity,” explains Si. “We proposed a range of exciting initiatives under these themes including cookery, a community garden, youth activities, games and film nights as well as youth gaming experiences, and a music room to give children the opportunity to play instruments.”
Once the grant was approved, Si got to work with colleagues SSgt Taff Jones, Sgt Baz Slator and Cpl Cox.
“I was the money man and procured all materials, so Wickes, B&Q, Tool Station and Screwfix were regularly frequented! The team was happy to help and offer ideas along the way. We completed all wallpapering, painting, laid laminate flooring, drilled, tiled and put everything else up onto the walls and took away four truckloads of rubbish throughout the project,” explains Si.
Si has made sure the new community centre offers something for all ages to get involved in and have some fun.
“Before, we had a messy play class which was just for young toddlers. We didn’t provide anything for the older children. The new games room is an ideal space for older kids to come in for an hour to play table tennis, games machines or just chill and watch a film on the new projector. The arcade machine has 2,000 games on the hard drive and the PS4 has the usual football and car racing games. The messy playroom can now be used during the day to isolate the mess,” he says.
The reaction from the community has been incredibly positive and everyone has been very impressed.
“It’s been something that has been needed for a long time and I think I just came in at the right time,” says Si, explaining how the three themes will give families a greater opportunity to come together. “We will hold bingo nights, movie nights for the kids and music classes and youth clubs on a Friday.
“I’ve got a few volunteers who are spouses, who want to offer their help which I feel will be a great success. We also have the Military Wives Choir for the New Forest area practising once a week and Weight Watchers and the New Forest Dance Academy hire the hall too, so we get some good interaction from the local community.”
The project has been a real team effort, as Si explains: “All the vinyl wall stickers were provided by Cpl A Brighouse who has his own vinyl printing business.
“We designed a seating area in the new garden that’s a real sun trap and the planters will be used to grow some simple vegetables, with the addition of a greenhouse. We have a soldier who is offering free lessons on the ukulele and a music teacher offering her services to conduct piano lessons, once contact is allowed to commence again.”
Find out more about how to secure a grant for your project at covenantfund.org.uk