With numerous budgetary challenges facing our public services, local facilities such as leisure centres, libraries, schools and community centres are all under pressure to reduce expenditure and cut services.

Often the focal point of a local community, it is not uncommon that these facilities are short on funding or in need of modernisation to suit a population where one size no longer fits all. Our society today is rapidly changing: increasingly technology savvy, preferring flexibility and valuing experiences over the traditional high street.

How can this evolving need be met while creating a destination location? It is a tricky balance, which is why a number of councils and housing providers are looking at a rounded, more flexible solution as an affordable and innovative way of ensuring people have the services they value on their doorstep.

Community Hubs

The Community Hub concept is one that is not new, but Rydon is delivering an increasing number of these resources for a range of providers who want to create a centre piece for their community reflecting diverse needs matched to a desire to ensure sustainability of an asset for the long term.

What sets Community Hubs apart from a more traditional offering is they comprise a number of multi-purpose facilities under one roof. This saves the cost of operating multi-site locations that could be put to greater use locally, such as for much needed housing, and provide a wide range of services and flexible spaces that attract greater utilisation, bringing more people together and saving the opportunity cost of unoccupied space.

Wiltshire Council

Wiltshire Council has run a programme delivering a range of new Community Hubs across the county specifically tailored to local needs of each local community.

Their ‘Community Campuses’ depend on the requirements of the local area and can range from community and clinical space, leisure facilities, catering facilities and youth services alongside specialist services such as housing, emergency services, revenues and benefits.

In its own words, the Council states: “Community campuses will be developed by local people to ensure each campus is as individual as the community it serves. What a campus will look like, what services will be provided, or where it will go, will be community led and subject to extensive consultation with local people and partners.”

Nearly 10 have been delivered to date, with Rydon most recently completing the £8.4m Vale Health and Wellbeing Centre in Pewsey. Situated on the existing leisure centre site, Pewsey’s new Health & Wellbeing Centre provides a range of facilities for the local community including a large fitness suite, a new four-lane 25-metre pool, a multi-purpose room available for community bookings and group exercise classes and a meeting room space for community groups and local events.

Rydon has delivered two further campuses for Wiltshire in Salisbury and Tisbury. Again, these have been developed with community need in mind and contain police and fire service teams as well as youth services, a pre-school and a library.

Mulberry Park, Bath

Community Hubs are not just limited to refurbishing or adapting existing facilities as the new Mulbery Park development in Bath proves. Situated on the site of a former MOD site in Bath, housing provider Curo is developing a new community of 700 mixed tenure homes and open spaces, and wanted to create a vibrant and inclusive Community Hub to cater for the diverse needs of residents.

Driven by close engagement with the community to understand existing and future need, the result is a ‘flexible chassis’ adaptable into a range of uses, promoting a destination for interaction, education, wellbeing and start-up businesses for the new development and wider neighbourhood.

These flexible spaces accommodate a 210-place primary school, a 70-place nursery and facilities that include a café, clinic, fitness suite, business enterprise spaces and flexible spaces for community use.

Externally, Mulberry Park Community Hub is deliberately different in architecture from the nearby housing and a large car-free public square to the front is intended as a social space for events such as markets.

A formula for success

The Wiltshire Council Community Hub programme has won an award for Community Regeneration at the iESE Public Sector Transformation Awards, while the recently opened Mulberry Park Hub is celebrating the first intake at the primary school, a busy calendar of events in its spaces and satisfying a local need for a place to meet friends with great coffee.

Involving local people in the decision making process is a great way of ensuring the facilities are those that is needed and gives a greater sense of ownership for the local community.

Engaging the views of local people is a benefit Rydon has realised through other work including estate regeneration, for example at Packington estate in Islington where existing residents were integral to the re-provision of social housing, local facilities and choices of fixtures and finishes in their homes.

Flexibility is the future

With myriad challenges facing the public and community services that are the pillars of our communities, there is opportunity in using our public buildings differently to bring people together and bring a tangible asset to symbolise the ‘heart of a community’.

The affordability issue is one that is not likely to go away, yet through early engagement with local people and businesses, footfall can be concentrated in one location helping to ensure that the building and services are sustainable into the future. 

(Image caption: Mulberry Community Hub, taken by Barbara Evripidou)