The future of an historic North Tyneside community centre has been secured thanks to a grant of almost £50,000 from Newcastle Building Society.

Almost the whole of the roof at the Earsdon & Wellfield Community Centre dates back to 1856, when the building was originally constructed, and has been in increasingly urgent need of repair for the last few years.

A number of classes and activities at the Church Way venue have had to be moved from affected areas of the centre when the weather outside has caused problems inside, with its well-used dance studio being most badly affected, and the management committee was facing having to close off half of the centre if the required work couldn’t be done soon.

But now, thanks to a £49,288 donation from the Society’s Building Improvement Grants (BIGs) scheme, renovation work is set to begin in February on the whole of the south side of the centre’s roof.

After launching its Building Improvement Grants (BIGs) scheme in 2018 by making an initial £50,000 available to fund capital projects within community buildings across the North East and Cumbria, the Society doubled the value of grants available to help charities, community groups and good causes during 2019 to £100,000.

Earsdon & Wellfield Community Centre had been under threat of closure when its day-to-day management was taken over in 2012 by a committee of local volunteers.

Since then, a number of self-funded improvements have been made to bring the building up to modern standard, including installing new central heating and boilers, refurbishing its toilets and kitchen, and replacing its electrics.

The Centre is used for a wide range of events and activities, including Irish dance, Tai Chi and yoga classes, art groups, a new book binding group and the local Simply Dance Academy, and is used by around 500 people every week.

The committee is hoping that the improved environment that will follow from the roof repairs will encourage more local people to make use of the centre for their events and activities, and will help to increase the revenues that can be generated to support its upkeep.

Leslie Abernethy, committee member at Earsdon & Wellfield Community Association, says: “The Centre is a very characterful building and the community has really rallied round over the last few years to enhance what it can offer and once again make it a real hub for local life.

“It’s also very well used by many older local people who don’t otherwise get out of their homes very often, so plays a big role in tackling social isolation in our area.

“The enduring problems with the roof were beginning to cause us serious concerns, and while we’ve been able to make running repairs to the worst-affected parts, we were still having to put buckets out to catch the water that came pouring through it when the weather was bad.

“We’d pretty much reached the point where we were going to have to close off some of our affected rooms, so to be able to get enough funding from the Society to carry out all the required renovation work in one go is a huge boost for everyone involved with the centre.

“We’ve got plans in place for further fundraising work which will support other improvements that we want to make in the future, and we hope to see even more people coming through the door as a result.”

In addition to the BIGs scheme, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund also enables members to nominate charities and community groups in or around its branch network for smaller grants of up to £3,000.

Since its launch in 2016, the Fund has contributed over £1.8m in grants to community groups across the region and in support of partnerships with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Prince’s Trust. The grants are so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 245,000 people.

Abbe Hurn, manager at Newcastle Building Society’s Park View branch in Whitley Bay, adds: “Supporting our communities is a central part of who we are and the Building Improvement Grants scheme was set up specifically with this goal in mind.

“The centre is a hugely important community building and it’s wonderful for us to be able to help ensure it can continue to fulfil this role for many more years to come.”

Full details of the Building Improvement Grants scheme and eligibility criteria are available on the website, while applications can be made by Society customers in any of its branches or via the website.

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation is operated in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.