A modern community centre is being developed in the old school building across the road from St James Church.
Take one Victorian school, mix with a shared Vision, add a crowd of Volunteers, and the result is a flexible, fully accessible, well-equipped community centre, known to its friends as SJC, across the road from St James Church in Devizes.
Southbroom Parish School was built in 1833 and functioned until 1960. The building then served as a youth centre, first under the Council and later run by a charity. By early 2019 it was redundant and was to be sold for housing, but the people of St James Church were excited by the potential of the building.
Plans, negotiations, and consultations led to an agreement to develop a community centre in the old school. Funds for the purchase price were raised mainly through the generosity of church members, and by June 2019 the building had been bought.
SJC has a ground floor kitchen, office and meeting room, a large hall on the first floor, and a second-floor meeting room. During redevelopment, the kitchen was entirely refitted and the whole building renovated, repaired and painted. An improved front door and a platform lift now allow wheelchair access to all parts of the building; a disabled toilet/wet room is provided on the ground floor. Wi-fi is available throughout the building.
The vision for SJC, as part of the purpose and work of the church, is to support the local community. It was clear that SJC would be an ideal location for activities and courses provided by the church for the community such as the Money Course, the Life Skills Course, and the TasteLife eating disorders course. For older and isolated people, there would be spacious facilities for the Tuesday @ 2 talk and tea sessions, and for the Silver Screen Cinema club. The church encourages charities which benefit the community and encourage its people to flourish to use SJC to meet clients, to hold training sessions, and to network with other users of the centre.
Additionally, SJC is available for church activities (to which others are welcome); these include children’s groups as well as social events such a quiz nights and concerts. The relocation of the St James Office from the church building to SJC allows the clergy and admin team to be at the heart of community activities. The church is a member of the Devizes Area Health and Wellbeing Group, which also encourages networking among local organisations, and the development of SJC has been welcomed by the Devizes Area Board (Wiltshire Council) and Devizes Town Council.
Most of the professional expertise needed in designing, managing, and undertaking the project was given freely from within the church congregation. Much of the unskilled labour was also provided by volunteers from within the congregation, with on one occasion over eighty involved in a working weekend. Social distancing slowed the progress during 2020, but work continued to achieve a high standard of finish. Local firms collaborated with the project, sometimes offering discounts, and generous grants were received from local and national charities and from Devizes Area Board towards the fitting out of the building.
Welcome to SJC!