A woman who runs a Belper community centre which has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary says the service owes everything to the immense goodwill the town shows towards it.
Jackie Cox is the chair of trustees at the Belper Community Cottage, on Chapel Street, which, since its founding in 1995, has sought to provide a place where people can meet and, if need be, get help.
Staffed entirely by volunteers, the cottage plays host to groups providing a vast array of services, from reconnecting estranged families to ensuring the safety of revellers on the town’s streets.
She said: “We might be one of the smallest community groups in Belper, but we’ve definitely got the biggest heart. We get no funding from anywhere - we run it off the charges we make for room hire, and even then we only just break even. But we are not here to make a profit - we do it to help the community.
“When people come volunteering for us they don’t leave - they just seem to want to stay forever.
“I have resigned I don’t know how many times, but they keep persuading me to stay!”
Jackie is originally from Birmingham and is a former Belper town councillor and mayor.
She has been volunteering on and off since the age of 17 and has been working at the cottage for the last 13 years, serving as chair for 11 of them.
“The building is the former caretaker’s cottage for the methodist church and I’m told it was a mess when they took it over,” she explains.
“It took them five years to get it on its feet and since then it has gone from strength to strength.
“It’s important for the people who use the services but it is also a lifeline for those who volunteer as well.”
There are so many people who help keep the place going, Jackie struggles to name them all.
She continued: “Belper Mayor Dan Booth, and his father Joe, do our lawns for free every week, and plumber Tony Tinkler provides his services free of charge as well.
“We don’t pay for our painting and decorating either and Deb keep us supplied with handwash for free as well.
“That’s what I call community spirit.”
Asked why volunteers devote so much of their time to the place, Jackie is momentarily lost for words, before answering: “Doing it gives you a good feeling, but you meet so many nice people as well.”
It’s a place for fun as well...
The cottage hires out its four rooms to many different groups throughout each week, some for serious matters but many for fun things as well.
“We currently charge £5.50 per hour on weekdays and £8 on weekends,” Jackie explained.
“One of our main functions is to act as a contact centre for estranged families, but we also do counselling, host Alcoholics Anonymous and offer bereavement support as well.
“So we do have lots of serious stuff going on, but we do have fun as well.
“This includes a lunch club for the elderly every Tuesday, a poetry group most weeks and we are also a base for the Street Angels group who help revellers who are out in the town at weekends.
“And we used to have a group with learning disabilities in twice a week, but this has recently been cut back after the county council reduced its funding.”