Hub brings out best of a community battling poverty

MSP  David Torrance, with Rod Cavanagh,  joins staff and volunteers at a cookery class.
MSP David Torrance, with Rod Cavanagh, joins staff and volunteers at a cookery class.

Despite the east of Kirkcaldy being among one of the country’s poorest areas, with 39 per cent of children currently living in poverty, local residents say it’s still a great place to live.

And community spirit and a willingness to help others is abundant, as a recent visit to the Gallatown’s Happy Days community hub revealed.

Shuggy Hughes, with Martin Forbes

Shuggy Hughes, with Martin Forbes

It has been in its St Clair Street premises for around 18 months after moving from Overton Community Centre.

It’s one of nine Inspiring Scotland schemes being run by Link Up and administered locally by Kirkcaldy YMCA.

The project works with people, communities, charities and public bodies to develop solutions to some of the deepest social problems, and help them to change the lives of the most vulnerable people with the help of funding from Cashback for Communities.

Debbie Kelly is the community development worker who helps to facilitate the various groups which operate from the hub, but it is residents and hub users who dictate which services they want to see on offer.

She explained: “It was set up to get people involved in social activities and groups to build on the good things already going on within the community.

“From that, we set up the Gallatown Gala and Community Group which now very successfully organises and runs the annual summer gala.

“The essence of what we are trying to do is to share the skills and passions of people in the community to enable them to do what they want to do. We are just here to support and guide them.

“We have a kid’s club here and the youngsters wanted to learn how to cook. A local businessman Ian Johnstone made a donation which enabled us to set up a family dinners group.

“Every Tuesday, a bunch of mums pick up their children from school then come along here and we have all the provisions they need to help make a simple and nutritious meal with them and sit down together to eat it.

“The fact that local businesses are getting on board and realising that they can help something worthwhile in the area is great.”

The hub also runs a clothes stall where people can buy quality used clothing for 50 pence an item.

The stall came about after residents realised that there were not many charity shops offering children’s clothing.

The Gallatown group has recently applied for funding from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and as well as starting up the stall, they brought in a woman who had previous retail experience who came in to offer retail training to help members develop new skills.

It runs a snack cafe on Wednesdays, with access to computers for people doing job searches or needing to fill in claims forms, and it is also runs Kingdom Credit Union sessions and referrals to the Kirkcaldy Foodbank.

Every Thursday there is the Bite and Blether Cafe, again run by people from the local community who have developed their cooking skills and offer home-cooked food, made in the hub’s kitchen for a very reasonable price – £1.50 for a hot main course and 75p each for soup or a pudding.

And it is always busy, with around 30 people or more coming along.

Members of the group are in the middle of organising this year’s Gallatown Gala which will take place on June 30, and more volunteers are being sought to help out.

“Everything on the day is free, so we need to fundraise for things like the bouncy castle and face painting, and we have been doing cake sales, sponsored walks with the children and bike runs with the bike club.”

The Gallatown Bike Club is another popular group which started up as part of Link Up but has now grown to become its own social enterprise business.

Run from the former Gallatown Bowling Club, it takes in old or unused donated bikes and does them up to sell on to raise funds to sustain its activities. And it is hoping to secure funding to develop a bike skills track.

The group is also in the process of applying to take over the former bowling club as its new permanent base as the Happy Days hub is rented privately and is not an ideal set up for the group.

“The committee would love to have a place to call our own home, and moving into the bowling club would offer a nice, safe environment,” said Debbie. “It is completely enclosed, so we could have more outdoor activities and the children would be able to run around outside.

“It would need some alterations to accommodate all our groups, but it would be ideal for us and we have the support from local councillors.

“People know they can come here for help without being judged. We have a table of free food where they can help themselves and if they need help they will get it, whether it’s a bowl of soup or a listening ear.”

Rod Kavanagh, councillor for the area, said: “This is an area of social deprivation and the services offered here are a vital lifeline for many people not just on low income, but often on no income.

“There’s a misconception of exceptional poverty. It isn’t that people living here have low expectations – that’s not the case. They are conditioned by the environment they live in.

“I am 100 per cent behind the hub and I am lending my support to its bid to take on the former bowling club.”

Community hub is my lifeline

Stacey Duff (31), of Cairns St East said: “I’ve been coming along since November after I heard about it from other mums.

“I have five boys and I come along with them all. It’s great to spend time with them doing things we all enjoy.

“On Monday some of them go to the kids’ cooking club and we all come along for the family dinner on Tuesday. I also do a dance class which is amazing and Thursday I come to the Bite and Blether.

“I’m also about to start coming to a tent painting group on Saturdays where you decorate a tent with the kids then everyone goes camping at the end of it, which the boys will all love.

“This place is a lifeline to me. It’s always so welcoming and friendly.

“I suffered a lot with anxiety and thought I wouldn’t be able to cope, but since I started coming here I have come a long way and my confidence has really improved.

“I would encourage anyone to come along and find out what’s on offer. It’s great for kids and adults.”