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Making people laugh: Brinnington Community Association, Stockport

Maureen Dalton is the Lettings Secretary for Brinnington Community Association, an association of around 90 local residents, including representatives of various groups, who use Brinnington Community Centre for social, recreational and educational activities.  

She is one of seven volunteers who help to run the Association and manage the use of the Centre. She also helps to run some of the groups. In fact, when I arrive at the Centre, she is busy helping to run an elderly activity group with her colleague, Bob Kearsley.

Maureen introduces me to the group and then the two of us sit down in the bar area and get talking about her involvement in the Association, its history, its value and its main challenges. She tells me that she first got involved over 25 years ago when her own children started dancing. Now, as key holder, she is on call 24 hours a day.

“When anybody needs letting in, it is me that comes. Anybody tries to break in, it is me who comes. Security rings and I come.” Of course, it helps that her husband is, in her words, “very understanding.”

Maureen explains that the Association was set up by a group of local residents in 1965 to raise funds for the construction of the current Centre on Hereford Road, replacing the old one, an army hut, known locally as the Black Hut. Today, the building is owned and managed by Stockport Homes, to whom the Association pays rent.

During the week, the Association sub-lets the space to members for indoor bowling, a craft club, elderly activity groups, dance classes, a coffee morning and bingo, and to outside organisations who run healthy eating courses and provide continuing education. On Saturdays, they let it at commercial rates to private groups, mainly for weddings and birthday parties. 

I ask Maureen why the Association is so important and why it needs support from the public sector, including the landlord of the Centre and the local authority.  She tells me that it gives people the opportunity to get together with others and enjoy themselves – it is as simple and important as that.  

“If this place had to close down, there would be uproar. The users would lose everything.  People like these in the elderly activity group, who only get out once a week. You’d think you were in a pub at times, the way they go on. They haven’t seen anybody since last week and this is how they are all the time. You’d be cutting people’s lives off; they’d be stuck at home not seeing anybody. They want to see people; they want to have a laugh and a joke. Some of them have dementia. Some have had a stroke or are partially sighted. Some of them are just lonely.”

Maureen points out that there very few places in the area for elderly groups and that they and other groups are vulnerable to cuts in public sector spending. “We have the Labour Club and the Conservative Club, but they’re not really for the elderly. The dance schools won’t take children with disabilities and learning difficulties. We have a little girl who is really autistic and all she does when she goes in the dance class is stand with her teddy and look in the mirrors – that’s all she does for half an hour. We are here for them to enjoy themselves and learn a new skill.” 

It becomes clear as we talk that this lack of suitable community space is a major issue in Brinnington and that the problem is getting worse: “The Lapwing Centre could be used by some of the other groups, but it’s dark there at night and anyway the council we’re planning to pull it down and build new houses. They had sports clubs there, but they haven’t looked after them. If you want a children’s party, this place is safer and more relaxing than the Labour Club or the Salisbury, where anyone can walk in.” 

As if to underscore the point about deprivation, Maureen points out that Brinnington is the only estate in Great Britain that has two special needs schools. When I check the Government’s statistics later on, I’m not surprised to discover that Brinnington is one of the 1% most deprived areas in England; that the local area in which the Centre is located is ranked 403 of 32,482 Local Super Output Areas in England and that two of the other three LSOA in Brinnington are ranked 149 and 271.

Deprivation is a major issue for Brinnington; but the priority for the Association is to make the most of what there is. Maureen tells me that the main challenges are to raise funds for the user groups and recruit volunteers. She says that all of the user groups could do with a little more funding and easier access to it.

As it is, the groups get rent grants from the council, support from other organisations, such as Age Concern and Tame Valley Area Committee, and some help from the Association itself, which organises fundraising activities for the groups. Maureen and her colleagues also meet regularly with the Funding Officer of Stockport Homes to identify grants and complete applications for the groups. She says some of the smaller groups don’t have the knowledge to fill in the forms; “Some of them are about 20 pages long and you’ve got to know the right words to use.” 

Maureen says that new community-based funding initiatives haven’t done much to help BCA or the community. “Once a year there is a local ‘You Say, We Pay’ event.  There’s a pot of money from different organisations (the Police, Lottery) and you put a bid in and it goes in front of a panel and they decide if it is suitable to go up for voting and then the community of Brinnington votes on how much, if anything, you get of what you bid for. You have to give a presentation saying why you want the money and what for. I got money for the Brinnington Dance and Drama Group. But my argument is that they want to fund new groups, but the groups don’t last; they need to spend some money on making groups last.  It’s the same with other funders.

The coffee morning was started by Age Concern. The money ran out and they were just going to put a stop to it. I know there's only six or seven elderly come to it, but they come every week, rain or shine, no matter what, and to be told, after next week, no more coffee morning, well, me, I said “I’ll do it”, so I kept the coffee morning going. I never make any money on it; every week I make enough to go the next week and buy teacakes and fruit because I make sure they get fruit every week and that’s all it covers me for.”  What matters, she says, is doing something that will benefit the whole of the community, not just pockets of it.

Fortunately, the Association has few expenses, other than its rent; but as Maureen admits, they could do with more people using the Centre and more private bookings: “We supply a lot of the furniture and pay for a lot of the decoration ourselves. If we got more money, then it would be easier to fix things when they get broken every weekend. When we asked the council, our previous landlord, they said they had no money or they could do it but it would cost too much.  We learnt that it was cheaper to pay for it ourselves.” Now that it’s been taken over by Stockport Homes that might change.  But even if they didn’t get any money, she says they would still be there, the seven of them, working for the community. 

That brings us to the second major issue facing the Association: they need more volunteers and younger volunteers to organise things.  The problem is that while local people want the BCA to organise things they aren’t prepared to give their own time for free. “I don’t know whether it is society or not”, says Maureen, “but people think you are daft if you are a volunteer. They ask you how much you get paid and when you go ‘nothing’, they say ‘you're daft!’.”  But helping others is enough for Maureen:  “There's one lady over there and every week she always comes over and says, ‘Thank you for today!’.  I know I've made her day being here and making her laugh.” 

For further information about Brinnington Community Association and how you can help, contact Maureen Dalton at

Postscript – BCA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brinnington Community Centre with a Fun Day for the community on July 4th.


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

Photo published courtesy of Flickr user Mike Serigrapher using a Creative Commons Licence