It would be accurate to say that Ripon’s Community House – at least in today’s form - was borne out of adversity.
When it emerged a couple of years before the financial crisis of 2008, it brought part of the old Victorian workhouse back into use as a base for the Council for Voluntary Service.
But when the austerity cuts which followed that crisis began, it was deemed too close to Harrogate’s branch of CVS, with its own Community House, and Ripon was left to carve its own future.
While that was done successfully, providing incubator accommodation to nurture charities and community organisations as they grew, as well as space for others to meet, the Covid-19 pandemic once again changed the landscape.
As manager Suzanne Bowyer – who made a leap of faith to leave a job with Ripon Parish Council to join on a six-month contract in 2013 – said: “The question was how would we survive. We used to earn 95 per cent of our income and Covid turned our world upside down.”
The answer came through working with the County Council, which set up a network of community support organisations to ensure volunteers were in place to make sure no members of the community were overlooked during the lockdowns at the height of the crisis.
Community House took on board that role and in a twist of fate it has seen it emerge as the venue those involved had previously hoped to create.
“We always had an aspiration to be more than a venue, but pre-Covid we didn’t know how,” said Suzanne.
The process of change included amalgamating two food banks into one and, over time, the work done to counter Covid-19 and the social isolation it created has resulted in new opportunities springing up.
The food bank led to increased amounts of fresh food being donated – from businesses and allotment tenants – so Waste Not Wednesday sessions were launched, with wholesome cooked food being offered, either as meals or in preserved form with chutneys and jarred products.
The sessions are open to everyone, with a ‘pay as you feel’ policy that makes it easy to use because no referrals are necessary.
A knitting group has also emerged, meeting at Hazel House on the same site, now busily making panels to be displayed as Jubilee celebrations.
A host of others have also emerged, including seated exercise classes.
“Covid improved our profile and people know we can be trusted,” said Suzanne. “I think Covid strengthened the community. We were a trusted broker for people in the community, we had the local knowledge and the local touch.”