The team went to visit Woodhouse Community Centre, run by Oblong, in Leeds. Oblong’s aim is to create “active, flourishing communities” in a range of creative and interesting ways.
We chatted with Mark Southwell, Oblong’s Development Worker.
He showed us around the centre, which is light, airy and filled with art produced by the centre’s talented volunteers.
How did Oblong start?
The action that eventually evolved into Oblong began in 1996 with the realisation of the benefit of sharing resources. A library of resources for the community was set up, including books, guides and tools, such as drills, promoting a DIY culture. The scope of these resources has grown a fair bit since then, and now they offer computers and video production too.
Oblong acquired their centre through an asset transfer from Leeds City Council in 2011 and then renovated it to its current state. The asset transfer was supplemented with a hefty £420k in grants and then a loan on top of that to pay for the drastic improvements to the space. Mark said that although the process was a lot of work, it was well worth it.
What activities are offered by Oblong?
They offer a range of activities and courses, including:
- media and marketing training
- video production, web design, graphic design and blog-writing
- English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class
- a gardening project
- a dance and drama class for 5-11 year olds
- a food co-op
- cinema: an evening showcasing Yorkshire Film-makers once a month
- Head Space: a seven week mental health course
- a community development course called ‘Communities Creating Change’
All in all, that totals up to a massive 40 different courses or activities per year. Around a third of their activities and running costs are funded through grants, with the rest of their income coming from fundraising, as well as charging for some of their services such as room hire.
The value of volunteers
The courses, activities and facilities are made possible by a large team of over 50 volunteers. This team is supported by a small team of six part time staff. Mark said that these roles “exist to enable and empower the volunteers”. They recruit some of their volunteers from MIND, so people in recovery from mental ill health can get some work experience in a supportive atmosphere.
Oblong’s role as Community First panel partners
They’re also Community First panel partners: and perfectly represent the ethos of how small pots of funding can make a huge impact.
Community First doesn’t mean that the panel can fund everything, but Oblong by no means ignores groups they can’t give funding to. In fact, they offer advice and support and signposting to other funding where they can.
And they run the Woodhouse Boost, which is a once a month surgery where local projects can ask for advice, help applying for funding, or use of the community space.
They even instruct groups on how to get resources for free or borrow them. This means they can maximise the impact from Community First funding.
If you’re interested in starting your own asset transfer, why not take a look at our resource which will help you understand the Community Rights?Featured project: Oblong,