Yesterday evening I popped down to the Masbro Centre, a community centre based on Masbro Road which offers local residents free and low-cost services, activities, classes and facilities. I first clapped eyes on the Masbro Centre when I went to The Bird in Hand, which is the pub nearly directly opposite. I am ashamed to say, however, that as I clocked the sign and saw some activity outside I wondered to myself "Don't I follow them on Twitter?" and then promptly went back to salivating for a glass of red wine. After a few months of more Twitter following and a little internet research I was very intrigued so I made contact and, ahem, invited myself along for a nosey.
So when I returned to the Masbro Centre yesterday I paused outside and took it all in, ignoring the calls of The Bird in Hand just behind me. Tucked away in the maze of streets found between Brook Green, Shepherd's Bush and Holland Road, the Masbro Centre is an impressive building and space. From the moment I was greeted by UPG full-time employee Clint and throughout my tour it was hard to ignore one thing: the energy. There are huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm coursing through the foundations of this centre and its operations. In this day and age of funding cuts snipping away at the public and voluntary sector, this is quite a thing to achieve let alone maintain.
The Masbro Centre is run by Urban Partnership Group, a UK registered charity whose overall honourable aim is to "build community involvement in economic, social and environmental regeneration in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and surrounding areas". They are funded mainly by the Council but also receive valuable support from central government agencies and programs as well as other charity funds and trusts. UPG works closely with local primary schools as well as the Council's adult learning team to maximise the Centre's services and purpose. The centre is also there to be hired and indeed this is a valuable source of income though for spacious W14 real estate the prices are very reasonable. There were more leaflets about activities and projects and events on the front counter than you find in a doctors' waiting room and unlike the latter, they looked more than half interesting and not at all embarrassing to peruse so I helped myself to a few as well as putting the Bush Festival 2011 date in my diary (6th August 2011).
Clint, who showed me around, and in himself was a ball of energy about the Centre and its work, is a Careers Advisor by trade and indeed that's what he was employed for when he joined UPG in 2008. He has many years experience giving good, practical advice to people about careers and employment and the Masbro Centre does this for free. There are some dedicated career drop in sessions but anyone who wants an appointment with Clint or one of his colleagues to seek careers advice just needs to pop in or call up to arrange an appointment. For more information on their careers advice have a look at the website.
Clint tells me, however, that the job and nature of UPG means that he pretty much has to turn his hand to anything and everything as required to keep the Centre running. He mentioned that most of the paid staff have to do this and that he is only one of "many cogs" which keep the Centre running. He made a special mention of his colleague Max who is the first people he turns to for help and to get things fixed. I bet every company would like to have a Max, or a Clint. Recently he has very successfully taken on raising the Centre's profile through social networking. He doesn't complain about having to be so flexible for a second, and instead seems genuinely very happy to do as much as he can. A Shepherd's Bush resident for most of the 8 years he has spent away from his native New Zealand, he appears very committed to the community telling me more than once "I love Shepherd's Bush". He jovially juggles talking to me about the adult art classes ("the Life drawing classes are always fun!") with telling me about where he gets his favourite Kiwi produce in the Bush. I always like seeing the Bush through someone else's eyes so thank you Clint for the Bush talk too.
My tour took in both the Adult Centre as well as the Masbro Children's Centre. There are classroom areas, an art room, a gym, a very pleasant light indoor sports area and even a dance studio upstairs.
The Children's Centre was recently refurbished and boasts a very modern looking creche and play rooms. Clint proudly told me how busy it gets with the entrance hall becoming a car park of pushchairs. Clint also informed me with audible relief that they have maintained their Sure Start status and funding and though it wasn't said explicitly I got the impression that despite having to lose and reshuffle very valuable members of staff, the Masbro Centre feels very fortunate to still be going albeit with some programs reduced. Again it isn't said but I think both Clint and I were thinking about the other community projects, charities and organisations in the Bush (and beyond) which have been hit much harder.
I was very pleasantly surprised to hear the centre hosts an afternoon tea for nearby elderly residents and that this is virtually all run by volunteers. And as someone who always thinks it's never to late to learn, I was very impressed with the wide range of opportunities for adult learning. Their full program includes yoga, arts, maths and English. They proudly show off students' work throughout the buildings, and in particular in the front foyer where beautifully created pottery and paintings are for sale.
Energy is an infectious thing so it is unsurprising that I left the Masbro Centre feeling energised as well as very impressed with UPG and their achievements despite challenging times. There are people in Shepherd's Bush who really do rely on these type of centres and projects for learning, self-improvement, fun and perhaps most importantly a sense of community and inclusion. If only a brief visit left me feeling energised and enthusiastic, it becomes very hard summarise just how important the Masbro Centre is in our community. Bravo Masbro Centre! I hope you a force of energy in Shepherd's Bush for a long, long time.
A special thank you to Clint for showing me around and sharing a few Bush stories (he was a regular at the Bush Ranger - say no more!) and I have long admired your community spirit. (In his spare time Clint organises many other community events for his fellow Kiwis which included recent charity fundraisers for the Christchurch earthquake). You are a true Shepherd's Bush legend.
Thank you also to the Masbro Centre for the warm welcome and to the Youth Club for letting me take pictures of you using the excellent Masbro Centre facilities.
For more information about UPG and the Masbro Centre go to www.upg.org.uk.