Energy and willpower of Mags Fortune turned derelict building into Whitehouse’s Meeting Place
- Credit: Archant
Mags helps me out, she’s made my life so much better.”
These were the words used to describe a carer who has taken a dilapidated building in the Whitehouse area of Ipswich and transformed it into a thriving community centre and support network for adults with learning difficulties.
And the views of service user Glenn Leach, 24, seem to be shared by everyone who has visited the Meeting Place in Limerick Close since it was taken on by Mags Fortune two years ago.
With boarded-up windows, broken tiles, a leaking roof, unusable toilets, and just a small amount of cash in her pocket, Mags had a mammoth task on her hands to renovate the space.
But rolling up her sleeves, and utilising the elbow grease of her friends and supporters, Mags began to clear the place out, get donations of furniture, fix the lights and heating and start to paint and decorate.
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Soon after Mags picked up the lease from Ipswich Borough Council, she attracted the attention of Don Young from Ipswich Community Ventures, who heard about her through the Eastern Enterprise Hub.
Don helped Mags form a community interest company called Wots Up, which offers a day service for people over the age of 18 with physical or mental needs.
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“When I first saw the building it was almost completely derelict,” Don said. “Then I came back a month later and I saw what they had done and I was gobsmacked.
“I’m immensely impressed by Mags’s energy and willpower. She needs a lot of support when it comes to process, procedures and accounts and I can make sure she gets the support which enables her to do the things she’s best at, but I have never seen anything quite like this. I think it’s the most impressive thing I have ever seen.”
A member of a church group that started to use the Meeting Place volunteered to do the book-keeping and as income started to come in it was ploughed back into renovation and decoration.
Bit by bit the Meeting Place started to take shape, and the volume of caring work increased to the point that Mags bought a minibus to take service users on activities such as horse riding, sailing, archery and swimming.
The Meeting Place is now financially sustainable and is ready for the next phase - to build on the community café and create a space that can be enjoyed by the wider public.
In June Don employed Ewan Phillips, a community consultant, to support this side of the project and allow Mags to focus on the Wots Up day service.
Ewan said: “We are working with the Big Local Trust and local resident groups to work out what people want so the space will grow from the needs of the community.
“It’s about supporting residents of this locality to enable them to have opportunities.
“Whitton and Whitehouse is a complex place because Norwich Road separates the two, there really is a division, so it’s trying to connect it. We want to develop this place as a hub.”
Cad Taylor, of Ipswich Community Media, has joined the project to help promote the work Mags is doing and to further raise the profile of Whitehouse.
From the back of a bright blue caravan, Cad has been speaking to young people and parents in the area to find out what barriers they may face, and how they can be overcome.
She said: “With Don’s help we want to place an engagement community officer part-time here in the Meeting Place and help co-ordinate all the Whitehouse activity to make it cohesive.
“We want to support Mags as much as possible and by taking the caravan out and about we can raise awareness and find people who want to be involved in changing the community.
“The caravan is like a mobile town hall, people can come along and have a chat and talk about issues.
“There’s nowhere for people to hang out in Whitehouse and now with the skatepark it’s a good start but we need to clad it with more opportunities, support and events.”
Last week the High Sheriff of Suffolk, William Kendall, was given a tour of the Meeting Place by Mags and her team.
He said: “I think it’s a fantastic example of how a small group of people can make a difference.”