Read the story of Stephens & George Centenary Charitable Trust, an education charity in Merthyr Tydfil, and how they’ve mobilised to take on the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephens & George Centenary Charitable Trust, established by one of the oldest businesses in Wales, Stephen and George print group, was launched with the purpose of investing in the education of young people – in response to the low literacy levels in the area.
Since then, many young people in the community have also gone on to study at Oxford and Cambridge as a direct result of the support they have received from the Trust’s bursary reward scheme which offers students from disadvantaged backgrounds financial support with their higher education.
A community hub for all ages
When the organisation moved into its new building, the Dowlais Community Centre, in 2016, its goal was to make the Trust more sustainable by transforming the new space into a fully-fledged community hub that would engage members of the local community from all ages.
Opening its doors to a range of local services, the building is now home to over fifty classes ranging from archery to salsa dancing to engage people in the community. As well as a music studio, a gym, a community cafe, and a gardening project.
‘This big building became an empty vacuum’
Like many volunteer and charity organisation in Wales, COVID-19 had a huge impact on the trust. Members of the community were no longer able to interact with their educational activities or access the other on-site activities that had become an integral lifeline for the community.
Helen Hughes, Charity co-ordinator, said: ‘It’s really sad – this big building became an empty vacuum.
‘COVID-19 ripped the heart out of our community and brought with it a very dark cloud.
‘Thankfully, this cloud is slowly disappearing as we’ve been able to put our arms around those in need and reassure them that we’ll always be there for them.
‘This led to a sudden realisation – we needed to actively get out and about to properly support our community.
‘Over the past couple of months, we’ve had over 47 new volunteers join us and we’ve delivered 900 educational packs for young people across the borough, provided over 3,500 free food parcels to families in need of healthy meals, and put our lesson services online such as Art Attack, history and chess.’
Giving hope to the community
Speaking about the impact this has had, Helen emphasises that these new services have given hope to an increasingly desolate community by showing them that no matter how isolated they feel, there is someone out their who cares.
Helen continues: ‘The community is noticeably a much happier and less isolated place to be. This has all been possible because of the funding we have received. The Voluntary Services Emergency Fund grant has made a massive difference.
‘As well as covering 15% of our staff costs, the £1,000 a week towards food costs has given us the chance to ensure that the food parcels we are providing are substantial and healthy.
‘As COVID-19 now slowly releases its grip on Merthyr, we can begin to look forward to getting our community centre services back up and running – by working with providers to find ways to adapt them to this changing landscape.’
Find out how your organisation can apply for funding from VSEF to make sure you can continue to provide vital support to people in need during this time.