Community centre spotlight: Clarke Foley Centre, Ilkley

The Club Insure team visited the Clarke Foley Centre in Ilkley to find out more about the invaluable community asset and the people who work there.

We had a rather unique opportunity to see behind-the-scenes of the Clarke Foley Centre while the centre was still closed to members of the public. The centre is usually bustling with people from the local community. Whether they’re joining in an activity or stopping by for a daily cup of tea, the centre offers plenty of social activities for its customers.

At the Clarke Foley Centre, customers aren’t numbers – they’re part of a real community. Often described as a ‘dysfunctional family’, those who visit Clarke Foley centre are part of a real community. They get to know one another and Clarke Foley volunteers well and enjoy regular trips to the centre.

The history of Clarke Foley

The community venue will turn 40 in January. In just 40 years the venue has evolved and developed into a vital community resource.

Clarke Foley Centre is a registered charity. It’s run by a small team of staff, a Board of Directors and several dedicated volunteers.

Around 20% of the Ilkley community are retired. This means a large percentage of Ilkley residents are looking for new ways to socialise and connect with others. Clarke Foley Centre provides this interaction. They also provide plenty of additional activities and events for all members of the local community.

Activities at Clarke Foley

Around 300 people visit the venue each and every day (before COVID-19). The main hall seats 300 people. There are also many other rooms and activity spaces within the building – including a community café.

Luncheons, fitness sessions, indoor activities, health checks, mental health support, art groups, classes and much more gives the community a variety of events to look forward to. The University of the Third Age also runs many activities, classes and meetings at the centre.

A cool claim to fame: a world champion bowls player takes part in indoor bowls at the centre on Wednesdays!

In addition, the centre runs public events on certain weekends each month. These craft and collectables fairs give members of the local community chance to explore the centre. They gain a greater understanding of the events and activities Clarke Foley runs.

Heart-warming stories

While we were enjoying a chat with Stuart, Chair of Directors at Clarke Foley, we got onto the topic of making a difference. There’s no doubt the centre makes a tremendous difference to the people who use its services. But there are always individual stories that stick.

Though perhaps best known for supporting the older generation, the centre also focusses on providing mental health support. One man had been coming to the centre every week, and the centre staff and its regulars worked hard to support him and build his self-esteem. For many weeks he would sit and observe, not confident enough to engage with volunteers or other visitors. Eventually he started to talk to other visitors as he gradually got to know familiar faces within the centre. The staff and volunteers began to notice his confidence grow and his state of mental health gradually improve.

It’s real moments of human connection like this that highlight the importance of community venues like the Clarke Foley Centre.

Facing wider struggles

Many clubs and community centres are telling us the same thing – COVID-19 has stripped them of valuable funds and resources. Keeping afloat is difficult. With rates heading into the tens of thousands, businesses like the Clarke Foley Centre are desperate to get things back to the new normal and begin serving the community once more.

The centre had ambitious plans to renovate and improve the centre, though due to the pandemic these plans are now on hold indefinitely. Clarke Foley is now focussing on reopening slowly but surely and welcoming its regular visitors back safely.

The café is now open (socially distanced, of course) and the centre hopes to reintroduce activities and events in the coming months.

All of us here at Club Insure wish the Clarke Foley Centre every success and hope their plans for refurbishing in the future can go ahead once the pandemic passes.

Keep an eye out on our blog for more club & community centre spotlights! Do you want to get involved? Contact the team.

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Sophie Joelle

Sophie Joelle