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Not long ago Amy would never have imagined that she’d be a volunteers’ manager at a busy community centre in the heart of Wolverhampton.

Spending her life drifting from one place to another, she’d fallen into a world where she was drinking every day. Having spent time in a women’s refuge to escape her former life, Amy admits that she was struggling badly with social anxiety and her confidence was rock bottom. Here she takes up the story:

“About three years ago I was in a women’s refuge in Smethwick and when I was ready to move on I was asked whether I wanted to move to Birmingham or Wolverhampton. I’ve lived in loads of places and my first instinct was to go back to Birmingham – I knew the area and it would have been the ‘safe’ thing to do. But I decided to make a fresh start and moved to Wolverhampton where I lived in a hostel for a while. A friend of mine volunteered at a local community centre and they asked me if I’d like to go with them one day while they mowed the grass – I was doing nothing else so I tagged along.

“As soon as we arrived at Gatis Community Space, I felt like I belonged there. Going to Gatis was the trigger I needed to turn my life around and I started volunteering at the community centre. I moved from the hostel into a Bromford house where they helped me to understand what I needed to do to make sure my tenancy was successful. With a little guidance from Bromford, I set up my bills, started budgeting and applied for the rights benefits. At last I had a bit of stability in my life.

“A couple of years ago I was told about YouCan and decided to apply for a grant for an upcycling project to help bring more people into Gatis Community Space. This idea morphed into a crafting workshop and proved popular with many of the locals. All the time my confidence was growing. I was still feeling anxious when I met new people, but gradually I was getting better.

“It really helped that Maria, who runs the centre, showed a great deal of belief in me. When she offered me the opportunity to become volunteers’ manager I wasn’t sure that I could do it. I’ve never done anything like that before but she obviously saw something in me. She believed in me. I love what I do, what we all do (I’m one of around 10 regular volunteers who work at Gatis, although there are probably more than 50 people who help keep the place going). Having someone believe in me has given my confidence a massive boost and for the first time in a long time, I feel worthwhile – like what I’m doing is really making a difference.”

Amy gave me a guided tour of the place, pointing out the fabulous chess set (that was kindly donated), the Love and Peas café area, the outdoor play area, home grown veg and a large hall where a lot of the activities take place… at the moment it’s full of handmade lanterns ready for their annual parade that takes place on 21 October.  

 

As we talked I could hear the love and passion that Amy has for this place and the community that she has become an integral part of. They recently hosted the Big Lunch and host regular events throughout the year centred around fun, food and nature. She told me about The Real Junk Food project that they’re a part of, using food that local shops and supermarkets are about to throw away and making delicious three course meals for the community to enjoy. Her eyes danced as she explained that they also offer bush craft workshops where people can learn things like whittling, fire lighting techniques and den building.

The centre has recently been approached by a local hospice to host a ‘death café’ where people can talk openly about dying, to help break down the stigma attached to this most natural of things. Amy is keen to make this happen as she loves to challenge taboo subjects, getting them out in the open and talking things through. She says Gatis Community Space is a place where the community comes together, to share their skills, knowledge and experiences and wants to introduce as many things to the centre as possible.

Amy told me that in Whitmore Reans, 72 different languages are spoken…72! She’s hoping to create an area outside where she can invite as many locals as possible to join her in sharing a traditional dish of theirs with neighbours they might never have met. Amy said: “Barriers exist in every neighbourhood and this would be a great way to break some of them down. We all get to know each other a little more, whilst sharing some fabulous food, what’s not to like?”

Having spent a couple of hours with her, I for one definitely believe that if anyone can take Gatis Community Space on to the next level, Amy can. With the stability of having a home acting as a springboard to allow Amy to live her life the way she wants to, and the tiniest of nudges from YouCan, she has helped to create a thriving community. A place where people of all ages, and all walks of life can connect and learn from one another, and when I asked her what this place means to her she simply said: “Gatis has given me a life.”

If you’d like to find out more, and get involved take a look at Gatis Community Space Facebook page here. 

Hi there, I'm one of the writers and content creators at Bromford...It's all about storytelling and social media for me.  

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