Cash crisis forces South Shields community centre to close after 40 years

A cash crisis has forced a community centre at the heart of a South Tyneside estate for over 40 years to close.
Sue Callander and Jen Fettis at St Simons Community Project.Sue Callander and Jen Fettis at St Simons Community Project.
Sue Callander and Jen Fettis at St Simons Community Project.

Volunteers at the St Simon’s Community Project in Simonside, South Shields, say they were left no option but to call it a day after the building’s boiler broke down.

With a hole in the roof also needing to be repaired, they say they just didn’t have the money to keep going any longer.

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Since 1973, the Wenlock Road centre has been at the heart of the community in Simonside and, in 1993, it expanded its services to provide help and support to people looking for jobs.

Over the years, thousands of people have been supported, many of them former shipyard workers, as they sought out new careers.

Many more have taken part in dance classes, playgroups and other community-led functions and events.

Sue Callender had worked for the project since 1994 and became a volunteer five years, forfeiting her wages, along with others, in a desperate bid to save the centre. The project development worker said: “Everyone is just devastated. We made the decision on January 19, and when we told everyone, they were stunned, but we knew it was coming.

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“Jen Fettis, the project co-ordinator, was especially upset. She has been here since 1974. She helped to create the project with the help of former councillor Paul Harrison.”

She added: “It’s not just the people we have helped with job searches – there were playgroups, dance schools and other groups using the facilities – but we just couldn’t carry on.

“There was simply no money left, and there was too much wrong with the building. We just couldn’t afford the repairs.”

She added: “This place has been such a hub for the community since the 1970s, and we are like one big family.

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“It is a real shame it has come to this, because now there is nothing in the area.”

The committee now has six weeks to raise £2,500 to cover the cost of a gas and electricity bill it has been left with.

Miss Callender added: “We don’t have the money to pay the bill, but we are determined to go out with our heads held high and pay our debts.

“We have constantly battled over the years, on our own, to stay open for as long as we have, so we are determined to raise the money needed.”

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To make a donation or buy tickets for one of a number of raffles, contact Miss Callender on 07847 017 190.

Any cash left over will be donated to St Clare’s Hospice in Jarrow.

St Simon’s has been at the heart of the Simonside community for over 40 years.

Over the decades, it has been home to playgroups, youth clubs and other community groups.

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The project, a registered charity for the past 18 years, has been subsidised by payoutsfrom the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund.

In 2010, after its various funding streams dried up, staff previously paid for their services became volunteers in a bid to help keep the project going.

That reduced its running costs of £132,000 a year to £10,000, a fraction of what they had been.

This year, with mounting repairs to be carried out, it became apparent that even that saving wasn’t enough.

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Volunteers have supported thousands of workers into jobs over the years.

Their work has also seen them being invited to prestigious events in London.

Project worker Sue Callender said: “Since the announcement, we have had lots of people commenting on our posts on Facebook.

“It’s nice to think we have been appreciated by the community.

“The support has been amazing, and we would like to thank everyone for that support over the years.”