Ovenden’s former notorious Ridings School has been transformed from a derelict and depressive site to ‘Threeways’: a central North Halifax hub which promotes self-empowerment through exercise, training and education.
In the not-for-profit organisation’s first year, it has began to establish solid links with its community, achieve its social policy and planning progressive welfare measures.
Threeways chief executive officer Colin Davies and director Martin Durgen uphold Threeways is at the forefront of social wellbeing due to its model of community ownership of the centre.
“We want the community of North Halifax to feel like they have ownership of Threeways. Firstly, we would not be able to function without our volunteers - our gymnasium, which has more than 100 active members, is open 85 hours per week and we have one paid member of gym staff, the remaining hours are covered by volunteers. If people want to see a course or event take place we want them to know Threeways can host them,” said Mr Davies.
The centre operates through the input of six staff and a team of 20 volunteers.
Presently, the centre runs a Volunteer Plus programme; offering attendees training in practical employment skills such as painting and decorating, plumbing and retail over an eight week course for 30 hours per week. The course is authorised by the Job Centre. Over the next six months, Threeways aims to enrol 40 men and women on the course with at least one in four of those going on to full-time employment.
“We want to establish good links with local employers. We train unemployed people to prepare them with skills to re-enter the workforce,” said Mr Davies.
The centre also runs one and two-day courses in trade skills.
As part of its vision to deliver health and wellbeing to an area where its populati-on live, on average, five years less than other neigh-bouring wards, the centre boasts an afforda-ble gym-nasium at £13.99 per month and exercise classes at £3.50 a session. Halifax Star Boxing Club is based at the Ovenden centre and it too promotes fitness and development through sport.
To encourage positive growth in the community, Threeways is planting seeds for the future with a communal allotment for people to educate themselves about what they consume, get healthier and save some cash whilst doing so. The Community Growing project aims to also encourage social diversity between children and young people, older people and the unemployed.
Over the next year, Threeways will continue to grow as an asset to its community by offering more services aimed at promoting health and wellbeing in an area which is home to some of the most disadvantaged residents in the UK.
Big cuts to the NHS mean more health services will be delivered by community centres such as Threeways. Softer preventative services and treatment which tackle diabetes, obesity, heart disease, loneliness and other health and social issues putting a strain on the health service will be delivered at the centre in the future and discussions between Threeways and the local authority are currently on going.
“The economies of scale theory doesn’t work and is financially crippling the system. It is much more cost and result effective to replace these diseconomies of scale with local centres providing services for its community,” said Mr Durgen.
Bringing together voluntary, social enterprise and business, the Threeways board wants to introduce an incubator at the centre with office space and facilities to encourage enterprise.
It already hosts conferences in its theatre-style suite which holds up to 250 people. Threeways is home to social enterprises Happydays, Wise Up Arts, Halifax Star Boxing Club, HX2 Construction and others which promote improvement in well-being with the local and wider community through trading to reinvest in their social and health business mission.
Threeways is a dominant community asset in the heart of North Halifax. It’s visibilty and presence sometimes works to their disadvantage when it comes to funding says the centre’s chief executive officer.
“The site was costing the authority a quarter of a million pounds per annum just to keep it closed. It costs us £100,000 to keep open. The grant funding area has been reduced considerably and sometimes we have to run our services for free to show we are capable. Currently, there is a gap between the Government and voluntary sector and little funding available to non-profit organisations like Threeways.
“It’s been inspiring to see what has been achieved in such a short time. The Threeways project is still at a very early stage and it’s a complex vision in many ways but we’re keen to see more and more people get involved from the community and new projects come onto the site, creating locally accessible opportunities for people across North Halifax,” said Mr Davies.
For a related article: ‘Dave - the living effigy of Threeways’, click here
All the way to hell and back
The Ridings School made national and international headline news in autumn 1996 for its notoriety.
One infamous image, centred on the Ovenden school’s troubles, was of girls ‘flicking’ ‘V-signs’ at the then head teacher Karen Stansfield as she walked up the steps of the building’s old entrance.
Daily Mail newspaper ran the headline “Head-hunted: a man to end the ‘anarchy’” when former Rastrick High head Peter Clark took over the 650-pupil school where teachers were threatening to strike because of ‘60 unteachable children’ who they wanted to be expelled or punished.
Daily Mail featured ‘The girl learning to be a mother’ - 13-year-old pupil Sarah Taylor, twice excluded from the Ridings, who became a mother.
CNN, the American news broadcaster, pitched cameras and reporters outside the school along with UK and international media.
School was out forever on July 15, 2009, after Calderdale Council had previously announced the school was to be closed down.
In 2013, the former school opened as Threeways Centre to promote and encourage health, wellbeing, employment and education through individual empowerment.