Main image: the front of the brand new Park Centre. Picture Xanthe Swift.
The Park Centre welcomed the public to its brand new premises on Monday (14 February) – which have taken over a year to complete.
Staff and centre users were complementary about the new facilities – although there was some sadness at leaving the former building just yards away – where the organisation was based for 21 years and forged many happy memories.
Work first started on the new community hub – built on the same site in Daventry Road – in November 2020. Staff have long been preparing for the move which will ensure the future of the organisation.
The new centre has a smaller footprint, 50,00 sq ft compared to 80,000 sq ft in the old one, but there is a more efficient use of space. It includes three classrooms, three conference rooms, a dance studio and gym as well as a cafe in the reception area. Some 30 of the former 35 tenants have also moved to the new space.
Everything is housed in two new buildings – and staff feel it is now easier for visitors to find the organisations and facilities they are looking for.
The large hall has gone – but events such as the monthly Live Jazz and Swing will now take place in the dance studio and two of the conference rooms can also become one big open space for larger gatherings.
“It’s feeling like home already…”
Director Emma Hinton says: “After 21 years in our old building we’re pleased to be in our brand new premises and still at the heart of the local community. It was a tremendous team effort moving across but we are now settled in and we have had lots of positive comments about how nice it is – it’s feeling like home already!”
The old centre which was housed in the former Merrywood School building will be pulled down to make way for a new 900-place secondary school in the area – due to open to pupils in 2024.
Staff at The Park Centre say their previous space was in a bad state of repair and too costly to maintain, so in order for organisation to continue, it had to move.
Joy Pollard who mans the reception desk says: “I do feel sad, there are 21 years of memories in there – we did a lot of things, there was the Queen’s visit, a visit from the Russian Community, the Duke of Kent. The Angel Dance Academy started there and we’ve had loads going on.
“It is better here, it’s not going to leak, it’s warm, it’s better for the community but it’s still going to be sad. It’s a brand new start – it is nice but sometimes change takes a while.”
Visitors on the first day were impressed with the new buildings. Pensioner Brian Thorne (76) has been coming to the centre for around 10 years and was trying out the new cafe after a session in the gym.
He says: “It’s brilliant, it’s a good facility for the community and I’m glad it’s still here. I hope people appreciate it… The cafe is good value for money and very similar to the old one but with more modern equipment.”
The cafe is run by Steve Noble and Michelle Watts who were doing a brisk trade on the first day of opening.
Michelle says: “It’s lovely, it’s nice and open and has a lot of new equipment – it’s just getting used to it now.”
Not far away, staff and students at cookery school Square Food Foundation were having a cooking class in their own brand new kitchen on the site – which they gave a resounding thumbs up.
Claire Allen from Square Food says: “…Thanks to the superhuman efforts of our team and volunteers, Square Food has moved into its new home and classes are back up and running.
“Our new kitchen is bright, light and full of potential – the perfect place for the next ten years of teaching people to cook. There are still a few shelves to put up and homes to find for various spoons and spatulas but it already feels like home…”
In the second building which includes the gym, instructor Gemma Clemmings was showing people round.
She says: “In the old gym we had four separate rooms and here it’s one big open space. We’ve had a few people in today and most of them were happy. Some of our equipment has gone as we couldn’t bring all the stuff over.”
Youth Moves which works with young people across South Bristol will be the last tenants to leave the old centre after 17 years there – and will be moving into their own detached building on the site at the beginning of March.
CEO Alistair Dale says: ” …The youth space will be a brand new area for young people aged 8 to 19-years-old. We continue to want young people from right across the community to come, try new activities and engage with our team of youth workers. It’s a great place, and is a safe space, for somewhere to go, something to do and always with someone to talk to.
“We have had some amazing memories at the old place, working with generations of young people from Knowle West, Hartcliffe and Withywood over the years. The impact it has had over the lives of the community is beyond measure…
“So we can’t wait to open the new building, which will contain lots of brand new furniture and equipment. It contains a fully fitted out music and podcast studio, a chill out room, a small kitchen and cooking area and so much more.”
“…There’s still work to do but it’s coming along nicely.”
As those tenants who have already made the change become accustomed to their new surroundings and the bustle of classes continues – Joy who is busy answering queries on reception adds: “There’s still work to do but it’s coming along nicely. It’s all been really good feedback so far.”
To find out more about what’s on offer at The Park visit: theparkcentre.org.uk