Wellingborough Victoria Centre celebrating 40 years of welcome and nurture at the heart of the community

Members of the community showed Princess Diana the art of henna hand decoration
Members of the community showed Princess Diana the art of henna hand decoration

Users of a much-loved Wellingborough community centre will celebrate the building which has been at the heart of their community for 40 years.

The Victoria Centre in Palk Road, Wellingborough, first opened its doors to community groups on October 6, 1979.

The Victoria Centre in Palk Road, Wellingborough

The Victoria Centre in Palk Road, Wellingborough

Since then, the centre has served all sections of the town’s increasingly diverse and growing population.

Formerly a school, the centre was opened by the Wellingborough United Reformed Church and the Community Relations Council in a bid to give members of the racially-diverse community somewhere to go and hold group activities.

Over the years the centre has become the birthplace of groups such as Wellingborough African Caribbean Association and the Hindu Community Association.

For the centre’s fifth anniversary, an extra special high-profile visitor popped in while in the county.

Maria Seaman and Adam Humphrey

Maria Seaman and Adam Humphrey

On Friday, November 24, Princess Diana visited the multi-cultural and multi-faith community on her way to her family home of Althorp.

Her 70-minute visit included joining in with members of the Hindu community preparing for a wedding and chatting to youth club members who were weightlifting.

A plaque in the foyer proudly displays the Royal occasion and the visitor book has her signature.

The centre is currently home to 48 user groups with 60 supported groups under its wing, and rooms are available for hire too.

Victoria Centre Pre-School children at circle time

Victoria Centre Pre-School children at circle time

From arts and dance classes to lunch clubs and support groups, martial arts to church services, the centre is used seven days a week for more than 12 hours a day.

Every age is catered for from newborn babies and pre-schoolers through to retired people and the centre welcomes people of every background and beliefs.

Present centre manager Adam Humphrey has vowed to return the centre to its primary purpose - a community centre for the area’s residents.

Working with recently appointed fundraising project development manager Maria Seaman, the team see the 40th anniversary as a springboard to highlight all the activities at the centre.

The weekly Milap group meets from 10.30am - 1pm

The weekly Milap group meets from 10.30am - 1pm

Adam, who started as a volunteer at the centre, said: “We are a community centre and we need to act like one - we’re not just a room hire.

“One of the most important ways of bringing people together is food. Food brings everyone together. It closes cultural gaps when people share food.

“With funding from the Co-op we are able to have a celebrations of Ramandan with Iftar meals, Christmas, Easter and Eid al-Adha as well as Diwali.”

Another group based around sharing a meal is the Wednesday lunchtime Friendship Group for people who are 50 plus.

Adam said: “We have just taken over the running of The Friendship Group and we want to encourage people from all communities to join in.

“We provide a home-cooked meal and an activity. It’s so important to tackle social isolation.”

Princess Diana visited on the occasion of the centre's fifth anniversary

Princess Diana visited on the occasion of the centre's fifth anniversary

Pat Fairbrace has been a member of the Friendship Group since retiring in 2000.

She said: “It’s somewhere I can come and be with friends. I’m lucky that I still drive and I keep active. I look forward to coming here.”

Others who find their way to the centre are new to the country.

To help people new to the UK, Maria has been running an information centre two days a week.

She assists residents and new arrivals with tricky forms for allowances, credits, school places and benefits.

Maria said: “We will help anyone from anywhere. We support an average of 10 people a week.

“We also run our International Cafe every Tuesday morning for people to practise their English.

“I am starting a new carers' and toddlers’ group that is free to help parents and carers with small children socialise and improve their English.

“As a ‘foreigner’ born in Spain I can sympathsise with people learning a new language.”

The centre also houses Victoria Centre Pre-School which underwent refurbishment during the summer holidays.

Offering 25 childcare places the self-contained space has three full-time members of staff who also help at the after-school club.

The centre will host a free party and fun day to celebrate its 40 years on Saturday, October 5, from 11am to 4pm where a representative from the United Reformed Church will be accepting their symbolic ‘peppercorn’ rent.

To mark the four decades serving the community there will be stalls, face painting, magicians, arts and crafts and henna art.

Food will once again be at the heart of the party with traditional fish and chips on the party menu.

For more information about activities at the Victoria Centre go to www.victoriacentre.org.uk/ or call 01933 277400.

Princess Diana met members of the youth club

Princess Diana met members of the youth club

Members of the public waited in the rain to catch a glimpse of Princess Diana

Members of the public waited in the rain to catch a glimpse of Princess Diana

Princess Diana greeted well-wishers outside the centre

Princess Diana greeted well-wishers outside the centre