ON THE GROUND: Riverside Centre, run by the WRVS

Octavia Walker

Scheme: A community centre in Hereford, run by the Women's Royal Voluntary Service

Funding: A total of £900,000 from various sources, including £756,000 from the Learning and Skills Council

Objective: To rebuild and refurbish the centre to offer more services and opportunities

Pam Linwood was made redundant in 2000 after she took time off work to care for her mother after an operation. At 55, she knew she didn't want to return to her old career, but lacked the qualifications and experience to try anything new. "I just thought, how do I go about this?" she says. "It's unnerving looking for something new."

She is typical of the people who come to the Riverside Centre for help.

"I came as a volunteer. My manager introduced me to people locally and then I got a part-time job nearby."

Riverside, the charity's flagship centre, offers advice, training, support and a place to meet socially. Community help manager Diana Jones says: "We help vulnerable people. People come to us who have to deal with getting older, early retirement, bereavement, pregnancy - any big change in their lives."

The grant of £900,000 will go towards building work and updating facilities.

More than £750,000 came from the Learning and Skills Council with smaller donations from lottery funds, Laing Homes and the Jordan Foundation.

Judy Crabb, WRVS's business development manager, was largely responsible for securing the awards. "We got a revenue fund last year towards management, and that was successful so we were given the capital fund this year," she says. The work begins this week and is expected to finish by spring 2004.

The scheme is currently based in a Victorian vicarage and a small outbuilding.

The outbuilding is being demolished to make way for a cafe, treatment rooms and a dedicated IT suite.

"One of our most popular courses is 'IT for the Terrified'. We had someone who came in to do it, but we didn't have any computers. She had to bring laptops in each day," says Jones.

The management work with local groups to assess what services are most needed.

"The Community Association told us they wanted a building at the hub of the community. That's what the cafe will be - a meeting place for anyone within pram-pushing distance."

The centre also provides work placement and volunteer jobs. "There are lots of opportunities - reception work, delivering meals, or helping out with individuals. Some clients need people to sit with them while they are learning."

Jones believes the importance of the project is in building up people's confidence and sign-posting them to other things, either in employment or in their spare time.

Pam Linwood has since returned as a paid administrator: "I wanted to come back. I got so much out of it. It's hard work, but there's such a sense of achievement."

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