The idea for the St Ives Day Centre was first conceived in 1976. The Free Church in St Ives, built in 1864, was in need of repair and renovation and structural alterations were being planned, with a view towards it also being used for community purposes such as a Day Centre.
Wallace and Barbara Hodgson were the motivators starting this venture and worked tirelessly towards the project raising support in the community. While Mayor of St Ives in 1978, and choosing his charity for that year, Wallace nominated the Day Centre as beneficiary and forming a steering committee, which he chaired, with Pat Bryan, then the manager of the Trustee Savings Bank, as treasurer. Bob Dicker, a retired RAF Officer, was appointed as Organiser. Helpers came forward to volunteer their time and in February 1979 the St Ives Day Centre was born, originally meeting one day a week in the Church Hall in the Free Church Passage.
A lot of interest and goodwill from the people of St Ives assisted in raising funds enabling the project to gain momentum and then continue with charity events and other activities organised including:
- The 6th form pupils of St.Ivo School made a notable contribution by raising money from a 24 hour sponsored badminton marathon.
- Mrs Lillian Barraud initated Friday coffee mornings in the Corn Exchange with the co-operation of the W.I., with this group of volunteers becoming ‘The Friends Of St Ives Day Centre’. The group, which was later renamed ‘The Helpers Coffee Group,’ sold home made cakes, scones, biscuits etc, with tea and coffee and have been the prime donators of funds in aid of the Day Centre. Through their unstinting work, many thousands of pounds have helped to make the Day Centre what it has now become.
- During 1979 the Huntingdon and District Round Table launched an appeal to raise funds to purchase an ambulance, which was presented in February 1980, so that with voluntary drivers and the help of private vehicles, organised by Bob, and another ambulance loaned by Huntingdon District Council, members could be transported to / from the Day Centre.
- An annual Bazaar was held in the Corn Exchange, where, after months of preparation and planning, stalls selling an assortment of goods i.e. jewellery, cakes, books, games toys, and different raffles took place. Each stall was organised by volunteer helpers with this event raising substantial funds for the Day Centre.
- A Garden Party held by Barbara and Alf Longley at Hemingford Grey, to raise funds for essential running costs.
- Several willing helpers organised a market stall sale, and after collection, sorting, pricing and selling an assortment of items, a donation was made.
- A small attendance charge was made each day, and dinners supplied and collected, daily from Rheola Old Peoples Home in Pig Lane.
These were just a few of the ways funds were raised to keep the centre moving forward. Volunteers have, over the years, continued to offer their time and energy, without which the Day Centre would not have been able to function.
On completion of the reconstruction of the interior of the Free Church in September 1980, the Day Centre took residence, with the Centrum of the Free Church became the meeting place. In October 1980 the daily opening was extended to three days a week, giving more elderly and isolated people the opportunity to attend, with the social contact and facilities the Day Centre offered.
Wallace Hodgson continued with great dedication, towards the improving of the centre, until 1989 when he stepped down as Chairman of the Committee and the post was taken on by Maggie Scott, to continue with the wonderful project that Wallace and Barbara had started. Maggie continued as Committee Chair until May 1994 when Ruth Pethard followed by Pree Newbon each held the position. Joe King succeeded Pat Bryan as treasurer and Joe was followed by Alvin Spiby in 1994.
Bob Copley, a retired local solicitor, was a frequent visitor to the Day Centre and took a great interest in the activities. He was most generous with gifts of fruit to the members and spent many hours in conversation with Bob, discussing the day to day business of running the Centre.
At this time a plot of land was for sale on Ramsey Road, at the site of the old WRVS kitchen, which appeared to be an ideal location for a purpose built Day Centre, which was one of the dearest wishes of Bob Dicker. This vision seemed to be beyond possibility with the limited resources the Day Centre had and Bob Dicker discussed this with Bob Copley. When Bob Copley passed away, he kindly bequeathed £10,000 to the Day Centre, making it possible to start the necessary process of purchasing the land.
Ian Langworthy, who as solicitor managing Bob Copley’s affairs had become involved in the Day Centre, accepted the role of Chairman in May 1996, and with his enormous input, advice, guidance and positivity progress was rapidly made.
This was a very exciting time for all concerned and after many meetings, and obtaining planning permission and other formalities, the first plans were drawn up, looked at again and again with amendments made before being approved and the go ahead announced. With the invaluable drive of the treasurer, Alvin Spiby, accompanied by Bob Dicker and Ken Hewitson, many meetings were attended where Alvin coaxed and cajoled for additional financial assistance, and Ian Langworthy monitored and advised on the legal issues.
In due course the first fall of the hammer was made in demolition of the old building that had stood on the Ramsey Road site, and in the ensuing weeks and months foundations were laid and building took place. Carpets were chosen and curtain fabric samples examined, and a hundred and one other details considered. Decisions were made, and with the help of a massive contribution of £20,000 from the Coffee Morning Helpers towards the essential equipment, and a further sum of £4,000 for curtains, it was possible to make the final touches to the Day Centre.
In December 1996 the St.Ives Day Centre opened at the Ramsey road site, which was to be named “Copley House”, in memory of the benefactor. Opening times were then extended to five days a week. Sadly by this time Bob’s health was giving cause for concern, and in January 1997 he made the decision to retire after almost 18 years, and died two years later, to be sadly missed by all, as he was a most committed, caring, and sincere man.
The post as Manager was in due course accepted by Gill Mayle, who worked hard to create a happy and very welcoming atmosphere in the day to day running of the Day Centre. In June 2004 Gill chose to retire and Val Pratley took on the role to continue the good work started with so much enthusiasm in 1978. More recently the St.Ives Day Centre was managed by Don Moorman until January 2018. Supervision of the Centre on a day to day basis is now shared by Elaine Jacobs, Lisa Dawkin and Gill Blair.
The future lays ahead, with no doubt many more changes to come. The St.Ives Day Centre has gone from strength to strength, and the helpful, willing and dedicated staff and helpers, as well as many voluntary entertainers, still contribute their time and energies toward making this a friendly and happy meeting place.
This was written to remind us of all the people involved in the beginning, and during those early years, who put so much energy, commitment, and goodwill to this venture, in the hope that they will not be forgotten.