With hindsight, we now appreciate the scale and significance of what is involved in creating a big, new building. If we had known at the beginning what we know now, it is possible that we would not have contemplated taking on such a challenge. Luckily for us we did not, and on the plus side not only have we grown in the process, but we are about to open our brand new, bespoke, beautiful Wellbeing Centre .
Our Centre is being built on what was wasteland between residential roads on the Gellideg Estate on the edge of Merthyr Tydfil. A newspaper article back in 2009 described why the Foundation was set up, explaining that years of unemployment undermined the aspirations of people living on this isolated estate. The new Wellbeing Centre is intended to counter feelings of hopelessness, becoming a beacon of aspiration – a beautiful, purpose built gift to the Community to inspire and encourage them to find and build on the strengths and skills they may not know they have yet.
Little did we realise what we were letting ourselves in for when our Trustees went to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth back in 2015. They learnt about passivhaus a technique from Germany intended to make a building as energy efficient as possible, which was extremely appealing given our substantial heating bills at the time. The trustees also fell in love with the Sheppard Theatre – a circular, wood lined room. Our quest for a passivhaus design with a round room began.
Never having commissioned a capital project of such magnitude, we originally expected to tell the architects and builders what we wanted and then wait to move in. In reality I am here to tell you it doesn’t work like that, we have lived through every brick being laid while keeping the work of the charity going in the background. It is not possible to be hands-off in a project which means so much to the people who are commissioning it. Over the years we have had to get up to speed with procurement, architectural design, planning, health and safety, environmental impact, security by design, external landscaping, building control requirements, passivhaus, installation of fixtures and fittings, IT requirements and much more.
Once the Centre had been designed, it was costed, and we had to fund raise to meet this sum. It took two years to find the £ 3. 2 million required. We have had to
- provide reports to our various funders and followed their guidelines for spending their grants,
- ensure that the community are still being supported
- and take on the massive workload required to get this building up.
Above all, we’ve had to monitor the spend on the build to make sure it meets the grants we have available. We haven’t been able to find a funder to pay for our time to do any of this.
The build is on budget but we’ve had to downsize some of our expectations. We have paid what seemed to us to be enormous sums for expert advice, which often conflicted and which tried to pull the project in all sorts of different directions. In the end we had to take the decisions whether to follow the advice or not, ultimately which way to go is a matter of judgement .
The building has taken longer than anyone anticipated. We’ve been stymied by the discovery of unexpected water seeping under the building, but this is now finally being resolved.
We have learnt how to manage the ever growing number of different contractors engaged on a project of this size. We have learnt how important relationships are – they last for years over something like this and will make or break the project. We have also learnt that the clarity of our vision is a key factor, for example we found that architects really don’t like round rooms and if we hadn’t been absolutely determined to have one, we would have lost it. We have stuck to our vision for a space which can be zoned and used by the community in a variety of ways as their vision grows and changes. .
We are now so proud of everything, the little colourful doors on the toilets in nursery room, the extending blinds to keep the nursery cool, the airy multi-purpose meeting rooms, the mezzanine balcony and of course our beautiful, wood-lined, round room.
We now know so much about capital builds we are thinking of offering seminars for other charities and organisations to learn from our hard won expertise – contact us if you are interested.
It has taken months to get to this point but finally we are ready to finish the build this month and open our doors so the real work can begin –the work the community of Gellideg want to get started on, in their lovely new centre.
As told by Helen Buhaenko
If you want to read the newspaper article mentioned in the blog – here is the link: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2009/oct/21/recession-public-spending-gellideg