The Old Torry Community Centre, Aberdeen, is an 80 year-old building (originally fisherman’s mission) owned by the city council and now leased by a group of volunteers who are the old Torry Community Centre Association. Old Torry Community Centre was nominated for the Civic Trust Scotland My Place Award 2017 and we spoke with David Fryer, Chair of the Management Committee, about the project and its impact on the community.
Describe your project
We run the building offering local activities and courses. We also hire the centre that provides a much needed income. It’s not large – an old style village hall, basically one big hall, a small office and facilities.
How did the process begin?
For a number of years it had been a council run community centre but it was rarely open. The option to take it on under a new lease and management agreement brought in myself and other volunteers some five years ago. We felt we were better placed to run the activities locally and meet local interests and needs. Our activities are run either through ourselves as volunteers or we bring in a paid tutors.
Who was involved in making the project and what community involvement was there?
The building had not been touched for a long, long time – the kitchen was not safe or modern and the toilet areas needed completely overhauled to meet full mobility standards. Apart from some painting work internally and externally we did not have to do anything to the fabric of the building.
The Old Torry Community Centre Association is made up of local people. We volunteer our time, but we also have some great folk who don’t want to sit in meetings, they like to give up their time to do things and help with the cleaning, organising, getting stuff, making things happen. That’s what they want to do and it’s greatly valued.
How was funding raised?
We applied to the British Airport Authorities Community Support Fund. That gave us the bulk of the money for refurbishing the toilets. We do get an annual development grant from the council that supports the centre to do what we do. This helps towards heating and energy costs. We also carried out our own fund raising.
Torry is an area of low wage and quite a lot of fixed incomes. One of the barriers to inclusion is if we start charging – quite often rather than a formal entry charge we say donations are welcome.
What was your biggest lesson learnt?
It’s a lot to take on board just in terms of all the requirements you need to meet, health and safety, fire regulations, insurance. There is a lot of background work that needs to be done to put in place to support what goes on every day. Our volunteers bring different experiences and skills including people skills. We find out what’s needed, small matters get solved easily and quickly.
What advice would you give people who wished to become active in changing a place?
Talking to other centres was a great lesson. Kindred folk who wanted to do something and make a difference in their community. They couldn’t give us experience but they could share with us the benefit of their own experience. This meant we were quicker to learn and made fewer mistakes.
What are the plans for the future?
We have a long maritime history. We are the closest there is to a heritage museum – the walls in the Community Centre are filled up with a number of pictures, and prints. It’s a place folk just enjoy coming to. Some people say “can I help out in some way” and it goes from there.