Cultural hub at heart of community reopens doors after Covid thanks to local support

If the last year has taught us anything it’s that it’s so important to stay connected.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Friday, 8th October 2021, 3:35 pm
The Gregson Centre in Lancaster.
The Gregson Centre in Lancaster.

So when The Gregson - a building at the heart of Lancaster’s community - needed help to reopen their doors after Covd, the crowd rallied around.

For more than 30 years, The Gregson has played a significant role for the people of Lancaster, acting as a creative and cultural hub for people in the area to connect, socialise, and have fun.

So when Covid-19 meant it had to close its doors to the public, the community was devastated.

It was a challenge the team never expected to face and, with no income for over a year, the future looked uncertain. Luckily, a passionate team of volunteers and trustees came together with a plan to ensure The Gregson would be open for generations to come.

They spent lockdown renovating the building and planned to reopen to the public as a charity and community business, which would reinvest its profits back into the community to enrich the cultural life of the city.

They wanted to offer exciting activities to meet the needs of local residents in fun, creative and inclusive ways. This included re-opening the cafe and pub to give people a space to socialise and relax.

Jamie Murphy, a member of The Gregson’s board, said: “Before the pandemic, the Gregson Community Centre was run by a private company and the Gregson Community Association was contracted to run the centre and its businesses (bar and cafe, as well as room hires).

"When the centre closed due to the pandemic, the private company folded and the charity made the decision to run all the operations of the centre. During lockdown we renovated and decorated the building mainly with volunteers and worked to develop a three year Gregson plan.”

It was both an exciting time of change for the organisation but also a challenging one. They were still facing serious financial difficulties due to the pandemic and needed additional funding to ensure they could finish their renovations. Without it, it would have been impossible to make their dreams of a revitalised community centre come true.

With up to £10,000 match funding on offer from Power to Change’s Community Business Crowdmatch programme, the team set up a Crowdfunder to raise a total of £20,000.

They followed the advice of Crowdfunder’s expert coaches and used their networks, sharing the campaign far and wide.

Jamie said: “Social media and specifically the use of video played the most significant role in attracting a crowd. As an arts venue we are supported by a lot of musicians and many completed supporting videos.”

After 56 days, 319 members of the crowd had raised £27,868, plus an estimated £2,351.50 in Gift Aid. This included the £10,000 match funding from the Community Business Crowdmatch programme which supports existing, new and emerging community businesses.

The comments section of their Crowdfunder quickly filled with well wishes, with one supporter explaining: “We have so many happy memories of The Gregson, it has been a huge part of our lives since we moved here in 1997. We had our wedding reception here and have danced on that floor so many times at Real Music.”

“The funding from Power to Change had a really significant impact on others donating. It provided a boost to the campaign and, as we were able to reach the match target quickly, it created excitement and buzz on social media!” Jamie added.

Crowdfunding is that it’s not just about the money; it can engage the community, bring people together, and even test out what the public thinks of your idea.

And for the team at The Gregson, it was a great way to raise awareness for their centre and shine a light on the vital role they play in the lives of the community.

“Since the Crowdfunder, we have had more interest in volunteering and about the future of the centre," Jamie said. "People seem to be more energised and the community wants to be more involved.”