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National Lottery cash boost turns Kendal parent’s dream community centre into reality

A local mum is set to achieve her goal of establishing a new community centre, following a £60,000 cash boost from The National Lottery Community Fund and another £60,000 from other generous donors.

Outside-In Cumbria’ is set to move into its new premises this month – making a dream come true for local vet, aspiring children’s author, and mother of two, Mhairi Helme, who first came up with the concept three years ago and was quickly supported by other parents and families nearby.

The UK’s largest funder of community activity, The National Lottery Community Fund, helped Mhairi to bring her idea to life by awarding her a grant of £60,000. Mhairi was then able to match-fund a further £60,000 from other funders including South Lakeland District Council, the Frida Scott Trust, and local Lions groups. Kendal Integrated Care Community, Kendal Town Council, Cumbria County Council, and the Hadfield Trust also supported the project.

Mhairi said: “This funding from the lottery has been absolutely instrumental in allowing our project to go ahead. Thank you so much to the National Lottery players who have made this possible for our town!”

Based on Beezon Road near Kendal town centre, Outside-In will provide the town with its only indoor play and ‘role-play’ facilities – including a miniature replica of Kendal high street, complete with child-sized local businesses, and a soft-play version of the town’s castle – as well as a range of stimulating, educational activities aimed at local children under ten years old.

Parents from local Autism support groups have been closely involved in the centre’s design. For local disabled people, Outside-In aims to host the town centre’s first publicly available ‘changing places’ washroom facilities. These include specialist equipment for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities or those with physical conditions and whose needs are not met by regular accessible toilets.

The community centre will be a place for local residents to play with their children or to connect with other parents and have a chat and a hot drink in the café. Staff will be trained to better understand and support parents experiencing parental loneliness and post-natal depression and to help parents of children with additional needs.

Mhairi hopes that, with time, the centre will be able to provide three full-time Living Wage jobs and to facilitate volunteer opportunities for older people as well as local teenagers undertaking their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Her goal is for the centre to ultimately be self-funding, reinvesting profits back into the local community.

Commenting on the prospect of the new centre, local mother, Kate Blamire, whose son has high functioning Autism with sensory sensitivities, said: “I’m really excited about the opening of this new facility. It will allow my son to be able to play and meet friends as well as giving him the ability to go into a quiet area to regulate his sensory needs. My daughter loves meeting friends and role playing, so this will be wonderful for her, too.

“It means families in the area who have children with different needs can meet and get time together and time with friends. It will really add a vital facility for the area, particularly when it rains, and allows a wonderful opportunity for children to explore through play, which is so important.”

Mhairi Helme said: “We have the support of hundreds of local parents and families as well as local charities and service providers who will benefit greatly from the project. Some groups currently are travelling up to 40 miles to access this kind of facility for the young people they help. Local parents have bemoaned the desperate lack of facilities for indoors play and social/community interaction since the last play centre in the town closed many years ago. Isolation for parents during early years parenting can contribute to post-natal mental health issues.

“We aim to create somewhere warm, friendly, supportive, inclusive and very special for children which is available to everyone no matter what their financial circumstances, where all of our staff will be trained to understand and help with difficulties such as post-natal depression and anxiety, autism, physical disability and additional needs.”

Duncan Nicholson, Head of Regional Funding at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “Mhairi and Outside-In Cumbria are, together, a perfect example of our belief that when people are in the lead, communities thrive. Money from National Lottery ticket sales means we’re able to fund a project led by the local community, for the local community, and which will make a positive difference to the lives of so many children and families in Cumbria.”

The National Lottery Community Fund distributes money raised by National Lottery players for good causes. Last year it awarded over £241 million to projects across the UK supporting children and young people.

To find out more visit www.TNLCommunityFund.org.uk.

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