Leeds loneliness charity OPAL hoping for final fundraising boost to finish turning derelict pub into vibrant community centre

by Emily Horner

A Leeds charity that helps elderly people suffering with loneliness says it hopes to finish converting a derelict pub into a community centre by June 2020.

The charity, OPAL (The Older People’s Action in the Locality), established in 2002, supports the over 60s within the Horsforth area of Leeds to live their lives independently and without isolation.

It purchased a derelict pub, Bedford Arms Public House, in Horsforth in 2015, and has since been converting it into a community centre.

The centre opened its doors in January 2017, and renovations are still going on, with fundraising efforts continuing to complete the renovation.

Sally-Anne Notley, a carer at OPAL, said: “We’ve converted the two main rooms and have one room left.

“We would like to start this last conversion by June 2020.”

Image of the pub pre-renovation by Sally-Anne Notley, Carer at OPAL

Image of the cafe, post-renovation by Sally-Anne Notley, Carer at OPAL

Ailsa, the chief executive of OPAL, said: “It used to be a run-down, old pub which we bought with a long-term lease, and have renovated most of it for OPAL activities.

“Before, we used to have a little office in Holt Park and hired church halls.

“Now we’ve been here for two years, renovating it room by room to expand, deliver and consolidate our services, into one building.”

OPAL has raised £350,000 through grants, loans, and donations, and has raised an extra £53,000 so far of their £72,000 goal to provide a community meeting room, a therapy room, and wheelchair-accessible toilets.

Ailsa said: “Our ambition is to be less reliant on grant funding as funders prefer new projects, so repeat finding is more difficult.”

The carers and volunteers deliver both emotional and practical support to encourage independence, as well as social activities to combat loneliness.

“They all work so so hard and are really good value, coming up with ideas such as singing and Tai Chi classes,” Ailsa added.

Carol, volunteer and bookkeeper, said: “When I first saw the pub with the musty smells and the windows boarded up, I thought, ‘How on earth are they going to make something out of this?’

“Funding has helped a lot – we had a domestic sized kitchen before but now we have a lovely, big kitchen and a dishwasher, and we can now make our own dinners with our own menus.

“We have a man with a little dog gradually going more and more blind, so we went on a course on how to help him- we feel we made a difference and helped him enormously.

“I really like being with other people and stop them from being lonely- I feel very protective of them actually.”

Ailsa added: “It can be a very sad job- we come close to people we care for, we see people age and deteriorate.”

 

Image of the kitchen pre-renovation by Sally-Anne Notley, Carer at OPAL

 

 

 

Image of the kitchen post-renovation by Sally-Anne Notley, Carer at OPAL

Margaret, OPAL member of four years said: “As a widow, I have something to do on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“I enjoy the company the most, I like going to places I haven’t been to before, and I always enjoy myself when we go to York and M&S on a Thursday.”

Ailsa said: “I love that we change lives.

“I get a buzz from seeing the difference we make to both carers and volunteers, and people in the community.”

 

 

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