“We have between 800 and 1,000 people using our facilities every week. In a community that is so diverse, people of all ages and all walks of life come here to both learn and enjoy themselves. It’s a real success story, and one that’s at the heart of the community.”
Naami Padi, the new director of The Venture Community Association, is talking through all the services and facilities the organisation has to offer, and it quickly becomes clear the list is pretty exhaustive. From after-school play to health and fitness classes, it caters to all needs.
“There are three parts to what the association offers,” says Naami. “Firstly, there’s the Venture Centre itself, a multi-purpose building where we hold adult education classes, health and fitness sessions, arts and crafts instruction and offer inside play for the children when it’s raining outside. Lots of people in the community also hire it for gatherings and celebrations.
“We also have the adventure playground, one of the UK’s oldest, which remains ever-popular with children of all ages and is a real asset for us. Finally there’s the Glissando Steel Orchestra, based in the adjoining panyard, who make, tune and teach steel pan. All told, it’s a fantastic package of facilities.”
But as many as there are who take advantage of everything the association has to offer, Naami has ambitions to welcome even more through the door. “Any adults who are looking for new skills to learn and activities to try, or children looking for somewhere fun and safe to play outside of school time, should come down and see what we have to offer. I can guarantee you’ll have a warm welcome, meet new friends and have a great time.”
It’s something Naami saw first-hand when she started her new role as director in October, when she spent two days ‘on the shop floor’ with the playworkers looking after children in the adventure playground during the half-term holiday.
“It was a great introduction to working at Venture and showed me what impressive work we do on a daily basis. Two things stick out most in my mind from those early days. Firstly, I saw what a truly fantastic team of staff and volunteers we have. They’re enthusiastic, dedicated, know the children really well and ensure that they have as much fun as possible. Secondly, I remember just how much the children were enjoying themselves. I spoke to some of them, and all they kept saying was how there was always something fun to do and that they had made lots of new friends.”
Away from the playground, Naami is particularly keen to encourage potential new members of the Glissando Steel Orchestra to come along and give the instruments a try. “Steel pan has got to be one of the most fun instruments you can play, so if you’ve got any inkling at all that you’d like to give them a go, come along to one of the lessons and see what you’re made of. Bertrand Parris who runs it all has a fantastic team of tutors and the classes are free.” Lessons and rehearsals, at which everyone is welcome regardless of their musical ability, are on Mondays and Fridays between 7pm and 9pm, and on Saturdays from midday to 1pm.
Those with an interest in playing music with their children should also come along on 17 February when the Royal College of Music will be at the Venture Centre, introducing people to instruments and teaching them how to play. “The aim is to create a Venture Orchestra,” says Naami. “Our friends at the ClementJames Centre have organised this day with the Royal College for local families, it’s not just for those who can already play – even if you’ve never picked up an instrument in your life, come along and see what you can do. It’s going to be great fun.”
‘Great fun’ sums up pretty much everything that the Venture Community Association is about, and it’s easy to see how committed Naami is to making sure the fun continues for a good time yet.
The Venture Centre is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm, and 11am to 5pm on Saturdays. Anyone interested in seeing what activities are on offer should pop along during these times, or go to www.venturecentre.org.uk.