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Gravesham Community Hub goes beyond call of duty to help those in need

PUBLISHED: 07:43 07 August 2013 | UPDATED: 07:43 07 August 2013

Gravesend Community Hub  l to r John Chapman,Jim Crowe and Dorothy Martin

Gravesend Community Hub l to r John Chapman,Jim Crowe and Dorothy Martin

Archant

Whether you're unemployed and looking for a job or lonely and looking for a friend, the Gravesham Community Hub can help.

Gravesend Community Hub  Jim CroweGravesend Community Hub Jim Crowe

Started four years ago by Diane Marsh, the hub offers a wealth of services for the community, including free internet time for unemployed people, food tickets, printing facilities and even a wide array of second-hand books.

The day-to-day running of the centre, in Gravesend High Street, is taken care of by Jim Crowe, who explains that he was plucked from nearby second-hand bookshop Regal Books before it was closed.

“I didn’t know Diane from Adam”, said Jim. “She just came in one day and offered me a job.

“She said she wanted to create a community-focused place where people could come into a friendly atmosphere and get free internet, advice or just sit down for a cup of tea.”

The hub has grown over the past three years and now has about four volunteers, as well as regular visitors that are happy to lend a hand – Jim calls them “unofficial volunteers”.

Both Jim and Diane sometimes go beyond the call of duty to help people who wander in – even helping to pay for a pair of winter shoes for a woman in need.

“She came in when it was really icy outside during the winter,” explains Jim. “She’d been to buy a pair of shoes for the weather but they were totally unsuitable.

“I took her back up to the shoe shop and found her a pair that were a bit more expensive, so I offered to pay the difference because she couldn’t afford to. I’d rather be out of pocket than have her slip and fall.”

Financed in part by the Big Lottery Fund, the hub has had many success stories since opening, with almost every volunteer going on to find full-time employment or enter further education.

Not content with simply offering work experience, Jim and Diane are also quick to point out people’s strengths and guide them into careers they had never considered.

Jim added: “A lot of our volunteers have health or learning difficulties. They make mistakes, but it’s nothing serious and they learn that way.

“They joke that I never do anything, but I give them a lot of responsibilities so they get the experience they can use in a job.”

Diane, a former Gravesham councillor, was chairman of a local group for people with learning difficulties when she decided to embark on the project.

Using contacts she had made in her role working for Gravesham Council, she secured National Lottery funding and grants from various Kent County Council members to kick-start the hub.

“After that we were fine for the first two years. Then in the third year things got difficult and I worried about our future until I started looking at other revenue ideas,” she said.

“We’re secure now and we’re open to the community without restrictions. That’s always been the aim.”

The hub now houses a weekly women’s group on behalf of the probationary service, which brings in much-needed revenue.

Jim and Diane remain as keen as ever to help those in need, whether by finding a new job for someone or even locating a lost family member.

Diane added: “We had a guy come in looking for his long-lost relatives, and one of our regulars is a geneologist. He helped him track down his family to Australia – you won’t find that kind of unexpected help anywhere else.”

n If you need help finding employment, would like to volunteer or even need help tracing lost relative, visit graveshamcommunityhub.org.uk or call 01474 360048.

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