“I’m 74,” Chris says, grinning when I tell her she doesn’t look it. “I don’t feel it!” she quips back, “I think I’m 21!”.
Chris Barwood is retired and has been the chairperson and a trustee of The Agnes Hopkins Community Centre in Swinton for around six years. Olivia Torpey sits just across from her, smart with her blazer, casual with jeans and a white t-shirt. She’s the manager, and one of two paid workers – the rest are volunteers.
“If it wasn’t for the volunteers, we couldn’t do this every day” Olivia says.
Chris agrees, saying: “Being involved in the community is not a 9-5 job”. When Chris was in work, she worked for the community, and now she’s retired, she’s doing just that again: “It gives you a purpose in life,” she says “I worked until I was 68, and I wasn’t ready [to retire] – I’m not ready now!”
Their youngest volunteer is 16 years old, “She’s absolutely brilliant” Olivia gushes, “She’s so committed”. By comparison, one visitor at the centre is turning 101 in May, “So we’ve got a big age range, really” Olivia laughs.
Chris smiles as she remembers: “One gentleman came in here and said: ‘I only came because I wanted a friend… and now I’ve got hundreds of friends’
“These are my friends” she continues, “We see each other outside of the centre – socially, we do consider ourselves to be like a family” Chris says, “we go out together, go on holiday together”.
Agnes Hopkins, the woman this centre is named after, was an Oldham Councillor, working as well as the mayor and a teacher in Salford, “One of our volunteers in the kitchen was in her class!” Olivia exclaims.
Hopkins originally had lived just opposite the Town Hall, opening her home to war veterans after WWII, and it became a centre for older residents over time. Now, the centre provides activities for children and adults alike, hoping to encourage residents back to socialising.
“A lot of younger people have become very isolated since lockdown” Chris says, “they’ve lost touch with social groups… and they come here because they find it’s like a haven.”
“We’re a not-for-profit organisation”, she says, “but we have to run it like a business… it costs a lot of money just to keep the doors closed”. She lists costs on her hands, running out of fingers as she does so. Part of her job is to look after the building – deal with repairs and replacements of the building and furniture, and with national inflation, costs are only going to become… more costly.
Chris describes it as a tsunami, knowing it’s on the horizon, but it just hasn’t hit them yet, it will hit them hard. Every penny they get from the events they hold gets pushed right back into the Community Centre, meaning they are constantly working to fund for the next month.
Olivia rests a coffee cup on her knee, “It’s been a struggle,” she says, “we were shut for 18 months, then we opened at one point but had to close again”. The Community Centre has been open since the 21st of June last year, but, due to the pandemic, Olivia and Chris have found foot-traffic to be slow.
“There’s a lot of local people who still say; ‘oh I didn’t know Agnes Hopkins was there’!” Olivia says, looking over at Chris: “We’re both committed to putting the centre forward… we work well together”.
The two nod in agreement.
“You don’t switch off,” she shakes her head, “sometimes I find myself waking up at night write down a reminder on my phone
“We just need to get people to know we’re back up and running after covid… and we’ve got a lot of activities planned for the future.”
To volunteer, you can contact the Centre on 01617 278162, or firstname.lastname@example.org.