I became Wimbledon Community Association’s Secretary in 2012, and joined the Board of Trustees in 2020. The importance of connecting to community was brought home to me in 2011 when bereavement meant that I found myself living alone in Wimbledon. I had never lived alone, and the prospect was terrifying.
I look back now and wonder how I knew what I needed to do. Something was telling me to start building new local connections. With the help of Google, I found MVSC, now Merton Connected, and I learned about many volunteer roles across the borough.
The organisation I applied to was the Wimbledon Guild. I joined their befriending scheme, and spent the next three years visiting one of their lovely clients in her home once a week. I also spent another day helping in their day centre. Going there always felt like a warm hug. I was welcomed each time by people who were genuinely interested in how I was getting along; staff, clients and fellow volunteers.
I had also visited Wimbledon Library to find opportunities. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw someone wearing a bright yellow volunteer lanyard. I’ve always loved libraries. Weekly visits with my family to borrow new books were a real highlight from a very young age. I had gone on to volunteer in my school library, so I felt very at home amongst the books. To be permitted to volunteer in a public library seemed too good to be true. I applied and was assigned to Colliers Wood Library. I still work there twice a week and continue to get enormous joy from it. The role is no longer just about books – I am more than likely to be seen helping people get to grips with using the computers. I love that libraries have evolved to keep their relevance to modern life.
To get some fun into my new life, I googled amateur theatre, and discovered Carlton Theatre Group. They rehearsed in the community centre managed by Wimblecon Community Association (WCA.) I knew of the centre in St George’s Road because I am a blood donor, and the National Blood Service used to set up in there every six months.
I went along to meet with the people of Carlton one evening, as they were planning for their annual showcase. I thought I could offer my services backstage. I was full of anxiety as I entered the building that evening and would probably have turned round at the door had I not bumped into my GP. He told me he was about to join a rehearsal with The Wimbledon Choral Society, and somehow this encouraged me to continue into the building. Thank goodness I did – I became Carlton’s Stage Manager, and have made my most enduring friendships there, including David Hall who became Chair of Trustees of WCA in 2012.
These last ten years with Carlton have provided fun, challenge, laughter, stress, a sense of achievement and pride, and much more. We perform three main productions a year in New Wimbledon Studio Theatre, so there is always something happening. It has also formed the backbone of my social life with most rehearsals and performances ending in the pub. I am also on their current managing committee.
After the closure of the community centre, we switched our rehearsal space to The William Morris Rooms. Around the same time, David asked me if I would help him to clear out contents of the centre, ahead of selling WCA’s interest in the building to Merton Council. It was a very cold, wet December, and not the least bit pleasant to work in. Rain poured in through various holes in the roof, and David had to regularly visit to empty strategically placed buckets.
At the time the Trustees and I believed that WCA would find a new building. As we carried out research it became clear to us that there was plenty of community spaces across the borough in schools and churches, as well as traditional community centres. What was missing was an easy way to find them. We switched our focus to developing a website that would connect all these venues and provide a means to guide the public towards them. Wimblecomm was born. Since then, we’ve added in community groups, with the same aim of providing the public an easy way to find community activity in Merton.
Most of the local community organisations I’ve mentioned here are now members of Wimblecomm. I look back to 2011 and think how much easier it would have been for me if Wimblecomm had existed then. One website for me to make all those connections. I can’t stress enough how much I’ve gained from my community-based activities – a sense of purpose, learned new things, handled new challenges, and above all brought new people into my life.
My hope for Wimblecomm is for more and more venues and community groups to join, and for it to become well known as the go-to website for anyone in Merton wishing to connect with activities and people. It wasn’t around when I needed it most, but it’s around now, and I believe people may need it more than ever.
Story submitted by Jackie Chapman, Wimbledon Community Association (WCA) Secretary and Trustee
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