by ANTONY CLAY
A GROUP based in the heart of a South Yorkshire community is working hard to offer opportunities for old and young alike.
And the group has been honoured for its efforts, recently walking away with a prestigious prize in a major awards contest.
But Edlington Community Organisation (ECO) is not resting on its laurels and intends to up its offer even further and provide even more for the people who see it as an important part of their lives.
Located at Edlington’s Yorkshire Main Community Centre, on Edlington Lane, ECO runs activities throughout the week for children and adults.
But it also has a food bank and goes out into the community too.
Backed by the area’s MP and councillors, the thriving group’s management team is busy busy busy.
Community engagement officer Lynn Brookes works alongside junior citizen officer Toni Matthews, and centre manager and manager of ECO Sam Siddall.
Chair Tony Wormley and a number of trustees and volunteers also back the group.
The group’s trophy cupboard show how ECO has had a positive impact over the years.
For instance, there are three St Leger Awards given by St Leger Homes this year alone and the group walked away with the Community Group title at BBC Radio Sheffield’s recent Community Championships Awards.
“We didn’t think we were going to get that. We were just happy to be there. We got a standing ovation,” said Lynn, who is a relatively recent addition to ECO having begun work with the group about a year ago.
She said that thanks to ECO the diary of actvities and classes at the centre is now permanently full, with more ideas on the cards.
Lynn said: “We do a massive range of things for the community.
“We now do events for all ages throughout the week.
“It’s just growing and growing.
“Anything we can try we will have a go at.”
Indeed, there are many options for local people to get involved with, ranging from gymnastics to the choir to burlesque.
“This morning we had a toddler group and a quiz this afternoon,” said Lynn.
“We just do everything we can.”
Recent big events have included a Halloween disco and a Christmas market which took over the car park at the back of the Yorkshire Main Community Centre.
The choir – known as AChoired Taste – has proved a hit and members now go out to homes to entertain people as well as undertaking other performances.
Lynn said that the youth club has gone down well and was set up as a way of offering early intervention with younger members before they were tempted off the straight and narrow and a way of getting older ones off the street where trouble could be the other option.
There are plans for the youth club to offer boxing, bike building and graffiti sessions.
The police have supported the youth club – which even included local PCSOs having arm wrestling competitions against the kids. Who won was not revealed!
In fact, PCSOs come in most days to meet members of the public and Lynn believed it was having a positive effect on the community.
A lot of groups utilise the hall at the community centre and there are free classes through organisations like Creative Directions which is run by Doncaster-based arts body darts.
ECO runs an after-school club every day of the week and is also working with Doncaster theatre Cast to create an upcoming musical.
There are even bus trips out for Edlington people, recent examples being to Bakewell Market and The Deep in Hull.
ECO’s independent food bank is provided with supplies from Tesco and Greggs, as well as domestic donations.
It is not based on people being referred to it by the authorities as is the case with other food banks, but is based on word of mouth and local need.
Lynn said that ECO staff or volunteers will “have a chat” with people in need of support and try to help them.
The food bank is run by six or seven volunteers.
There is also a Community Cupboard, with food supplied by Foodshare and enabling 75 members the opportunity to pay £4 per week to get £20-30 of shopping.
ECO staff also aim to feed all the groups using the centre, such as the kids’ clubs.
“Every group gets something,” said Lynn.
She praised the help that ECO gets from people in the community.
“We can’t do what we do without our volunteers,” she said.
There are four paid staff but 60 eager helpers who turn up to keep the whole thing moving.
Lynn said that ECO is a success because it is open to everyone in the community. People can just pop in and have a drink and a chat, whereas others sign up to take part in activities.
“People are made to feel welcome and feel comfortable,” said Lynn.
“We get so many different people walking in through the day.
“We have a lot of the same people coming in but we have a lot of different people too.
“The plan is to keep doing it. It’s obviously wanted and needed.
“It’s different every day.
“We just want to keep going.
“I absolutely love this place – but it’s bonkers. We do have a habit of playing tricks on each other but it’s just a laugh.”
Lynn said that the centre has proved a “lifeline” for some people, such as a woman who felt isolated after her husband died but found a new purpose courtesy of ECO.
The group has been fundraising for a van to allow more activities to take place. People have been using their cars up to now, as well as rather small van, but with the increase in demand a bigger vehicle is badly needed.
A money boost from Sport England to renovate the building has also been a welcome shot in the arm.
Sam Siddall has been working with ECO at the centre since the late 1990s.
She has been involved for 25 years, starting when she was at school, and even missed her A-levels to join the group.
She said that ECO is busier than ever and that the people of Edlington welcome having it at their heart.
“We do more than we have ever done for the last 20 years and it’s all about passionate people,” said Sam.
“Edlington felt it did not have a voice so Edlington Community Organisation was set up with support from Doncaster Council.
“The people now have got somewhere crazy to go.
“It gives people a sense of belonging as well because everyone is from the village.
“Edlington is constantly in the papers for bad stuff but this shows the good things. It’s rewarding.
“It’s a pride thing.
“Around 22,000 people used the facility last year.”
Sam said that many people have asked to be involved in helping ECO and they have been given a “chore”.
Sam said: “The skills they have are recognised.
“We just trust people.”
Sam said that her hope is for ECO’s offering at the community centre to get even bigger even though the greater workload could be a challenge.
“We have run out of space to do everything we want to do,” she said.
“People come up with suggestions and then we try to do it.
“For instance, we want to start a club for dementia sufferers and their carers.
“If we have an idea we try it, give it a go. Some things will work and others will not.”
The “backbone” of ECO’s funding is from the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation which provides grants for charitable organisations.
Other money comes from such sources as Children in Need, Stronger Safer Communities, the Community Investment Fund and the NHS.
Volunteer and trustee Mo Tennison said: “I’m passionate about giving to the community.
“People come in for a chat and they get involved.
“It gives them the opportunity to get involved.
“You have to give respect to get respect.”
Mo said that Don Valley MP Caroline Flint, councillors and members of Doncaster Council staff have all been very supportive of ECO’s work because they see how important it has become for the people of Edlington.
“The community has a voice,” said Mo.
“People can just come in for a chat if they want to. We don’t look down on people.
“This is the hub of the community.”