On our Wimblecomm Spotlight, we invite local people, charities or community spaces who make positive contributions to Merton to share their story on our Community Hub and spread the word on their good works. In the absence of their annual Christmas Tree Festival, we decided to catch up with Mansel Road Centre and the Trinity United Reformed Church to find out how they have kept their local communities going and adapted to the current times.
Who are you and what venue are you representing?
Elizabeth Scharinger, Administrator at Trinity United Reformed Church and Mansel Road Centre.
What does a typical day at your venue look like?
A typical day would be very busy! We have 5 rooms of varying sizes (7 if you split the upstairs rooms, and 8 if you include the Church) and at least 3 of those would be booked all the time throughout the day from 9am-10pm. We therefore have a morning and an evening Caretaker, and I am in the office from 9.30am-2pm, 4 days a week dealing with enquiries. During the first lockdown, we shut for 4 months but were able to remain open for limited bookings that were exempt from the rules during the second lockdown.
What types of activities and events take place at your venue?
Such a wide variety… Every morning of the week, we have Children’s music classes. We also have Kumon Children’s Spanish classes, daily Busy Lizzy classes throughout the week, and school bookings for extra classroom space, extracurricular lunchtime activities, and exams. Some of our spaces are also hired for Music exams, and Stagecoach Performing Arts classes.
On a Monday to Thursday, our mornings and evenings feature Adult Pilates classes, and evenings are generally filled with choirs and exercise classes. Our various spaces for hire allows us to accommodate everything from Counselling to Scottish Dance classes, so everyone is welcome to join us and see what’s on offer on our Community Noticeboard.
Do you cater to any particular groups of people in society such as young people, families or the older generation?
We take all sorts of bookings for children, families, and the older generation. The great thing about the Mansel Road Centre is that we can have a children’s singing group in a room downstairs, at the same time as a corporate meeting or a booking for University of the Third Age in our upstairs rooms. (Upstairs is very self-contained with its own toilet and kitchenette so guests can be very separate.) We can then also have an exercise group or something similar in the Main Hall. We have a lot of registered charities using our facilities too.
What is unique about your venues offering? What would you say to someone who has never been to your venue before?
The Mansel Road Centre is always receiving positive feedback for having staff present, most of the time, to welcome visitors and be on hand if anyone needs anything. The staff at the reception desk are always friendly and helpful, the booking administration is smooth and efficient, and the levels of cleanliness are outstanding.
Is there something that has happened at your venue in the past year that you would regard as a highlight or success story?
We have held an annual Christmas Tree Festival for the past 5 years to raise money for various charities. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, we are unable to hold the event this year. Without a doubt, the Christmas Tree Festival has been our highlight of the last five years. It has consistently brought the community together. Those who sponsor and decorate a tree all come together on one day to decorate and get into the festive spirit. Then, when we open the doors to the public, the Church looks magical and so very festive. For the last 2 years, we have also held a Craft and Gift fair which has enabled the local community to showcase and sell their handmade products, allowing people to shop locally and support small businesses.
In terms of providing a community service in Merton, what do you think your venue do well?
As a Church, we are involved in a lot of community projects and have volunteers from our congregation involved in them. For example, we host the Winter Night Shelter, we collect for the Food Bank and we are involved with Merton Citizens. Any of these organisations can hold meetings here with no charge. For other charities, we can offer a discount.
How can the people of Merton get involved and help to support your venue?
By hiring our spaces for meetings, classes or birthday parties (when we’re allowed to!)
By supporting our Christmas Tree Festivals, or equivalent festivals.
By ‘liking’ our Mansel Road and Trinity United Reformed Church Facebook pages, Instagram page, Twitter page and regularly viewing our website.
Now a few questions considering the impact of Covid-19…
The Covid-19 Pandemic has affected people globally, and here in Merton we have seen it affect our community venues in several different ways. How has it affected your venue?
As with many businesses, Covid has impacted us financially. Having to close completely for 4 months had a serious impact. Thanks to the furlough scheme, we have been able to keep our staff which is a huge blessing.
Our Church community has been meeting online and returned to Church after the first lockdown on a limited basis (30 attendees only.) We then had to close again for November’s second lockdown. Some of our congregation do not have internet access so are still missing the services, as well as face to face contact with other members.
We have received amazing support from local businesses in Wimbledon and have reached out to them in the absence of supporting the Christmas Tree Festival this year to see if they can help us raise money so that we don’t have to increase our room rates. In fact, we are keen to be able to reduce our rates to enable the businesses that run from our venue to continue with lower numbers. Morrisons and Waitrose are two of the local supermarkets who donated cleaning products and gift vouchers to allow us to buy cleaning products. This was such a big help!
We also asked members of the community who can sew, to make some face masks for our ‘Face Mask Tree.’ We suggested a donation of £3 in return for a handmade mask and we have sold out of all of them except a few children’s sizes. Big thanks to those who bought one. We have also been selling fun sized hand sanitiser bottles to raise money and we have a Tubz tower in our reception area filled with disposable masks and toys. For £1, people can choose one of these options and we receive 20% of all purchases. The remaining money from the Tubz tower is donated to the Shooting Star Children’s Hospice.
Moving forwards, do you think Covid-19 will change the way that you operate?
We will certainly continue with some operating procedures that we have employed in recent months. We’ll keep our PHS hand sanitiser stations in place, and we will review the number of people who actually need to be in the building at any one time. We now have collection points outside the building for collecting children after a class which has saved congestion inside and provided a much smoother arrival and departure for everyone. We may even keep our one-way system in place as that too, enables a smoother arrival and exit.
There is always something to learn from difficult times and experiences, what will you be taking away from this Covid-19 Pandemic?
That a community, both locally and Church, can pull together to help others in difficult times. On a more practical level, that technology is a massive help, enabling certain works to be done from home. An example is that meetings can be held online to save on travel time and transport usage. However, people will always want a certain amount of face-to-face contact and venues such as ours being able to be there when people need them, is so very important.
Is there anything else that you would like to share as part of your venue’s Wimblecomm Spotlight?
A big thank you to all our loyal hirers and to those that have helped us to raise money, both for the charities that we support but also to help us through this difficult time.
Thank you to Elizabeth and the Mansel Road Centre/Trinity Wimbledon Team for sharing their story with us on the #WimblecommSpotlight. Although this Christmas won’t quite be the same for us without this venue’s annual Christmas Tree Festival, it has been great to learn more about the clever and creative ways that they have adapted in recent months, and how they have used technology and recent experiences to review and improve their services. A lot may have changed in the past year, but the Mansel Road Centre and Trinity Church Wimbledon continue to be a large and welcoming venue in the middle of Wimbledon that supports people, and uses its space to connect people with their passions.
Interview by Genevieve Etienne-Farrell