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Bring Me Sunshine: Sunshine House Community Hub

Sunshine House Community Hub is a multi-use community centre in Scholes shopping precinct.  

Open seven days a week, it hosts various groups and classes, including a health and well-being group, creative writing class, luncheon club, painting classes, a children’s drama group and exercise classes. 

It has four main function rooms, a community café and a community garden. 

It is also a community centre with a difference. 

“We don’t just host activities”, explains Barbara Nettleton, the Chief Executive of Art to Art, the community organisation that runs the centre; ”we actively address local needs.”  

And that, she continues, means working with lots of partners, including local artists, poets and writers, health professionals, the Police, the Probation Service and, in particular, the owners of the centre, Wigan Borough Council, and its Adult Social Care and Health team.    

"The current approach has been helped by a number of organisational and public policy changes", explains Ed Ellis, one of the directors of Art to Art. 

Firstly, in 2005, Barbara was invited to take over the running of the community centre.  At that point, it occupied one third of the building, alongside the council’s Dementia Day Centre and Assessment Team, and was only open from 9am to 3pm and closed during school holidays. 

Barbara set up Art to Art and it began to run art classes and art groups in the space, meeting local needs and developing strong links with other organisations, including the council’s Adult Social Care and Health team. 

Then, in 2014, Stuart Cowley, the Director of Adult Health and Social Care, moved the Day Centre and Assessment Team out of the building and invited Art to Art to take over the entire space, which they did, turning it into Sunshine House Community Hub. 

It was a mutually beneficial development, says Stuart. “I wanted to do something different with adult social care. I thought we could use personal budgets alongside more traditional care mechanisms, as a way to unlock service users’ choice and control over different services and to support a sort of micro-economic regeneration of the area, with service users becoming local hairdressers and local gardeners. 

I got some money from NESTA to fund a pilot project at Sunshine House and then moved the Dementia Centre and Assessment Team out of the building, which gave us more room to do different things in different places for different service users with community organisations.  So now the community is helping to address the Council’s priorities, but in a way that fits with their priorities.”    

One of the beneficiaries is Steven, the Hub’s handyman and gardener. He arrived at the Hub through the Mandatory Work Programme in June 2013, took the opportunity to transform an overgrown community garden into Sunshine Community Garden Centre and is now setting up a social enterprise in gardening and handyman services. 

Being with friendly and supportive people helped, he says. “I had problems before I came here; but everyone I’ve met here is unbelievable. They’ve given me the opportunity to run the garden. I’m doing things I’ve never done before and learning all the time. They have helped me a lot. Now I like waking up in the morning and coming to work.  I never miss a day.”

The partnership approach is helping to make a difference to people’s lives in various ways.  The Luncheon Club is another good example. As Ed explains: “It provides a square meal for elderly and vulnerable people, a place for them to chat and a point of contact for others to support older people; and, through our partnership with the Probation Service, gives people on Community Payback [formerly community service] an opportunity to work in the kitchen, to meet new people in a safe environment, to increase their sense of worth and to develop a different view of the community - they even stay to volunteer beyond their placement.”

Creating a safe and supportive environment for local people is an important aspect of the new approach, but it requires a lot of hard work in building partnerships and raising funds.  Having a Chief Officer, like Barbara Nettleton, helps an awful lot, Ed says. “Barbara has the community interest at heart and is prepared to fight for it”, he explains. “She sets very high standards, consults and communicates plans well, doesn’t suffer fools and has gained the respect of our partners.” 

Pat Tate, the Hub’s Chair, concurs: “She’s the one who raises most of the funds and generally manages the organisation.”

Consultation and communication are critical to the process, Barbara explains.  “Listening to the community is important; but listening to experts like the local authority or the Police, who may have information about how a neighbourhood could tackle its problems, find solutions and work partnership.”

When the Probation Service announced that it could no longer support the Luncheon Club, Barbara and her colleagues discussed the issues with them and agreed to take over supervision of the Community Payback team. 

That example says a lot about the value of building “genuine relationships”, Ed says; of working with people who are prepared to “listen and work with us in developing appropriate services - not walk in with their own agendas” and dictate from the top down. 

Yet the development and maintenance of genuine partnerships is a major challenge. “It’s about money,” Pat says, “and finding people like Barbara who are willing and able to work for the organisation voluntarily and at unsociable hours, at night and at the weekend.”

For more information about Art to Art and the Sunshine House Community Hub, head to their website.  

This profile is a product of 'Realising the Potential of Community Hubs', a Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform project.