FEATURE: “Aurora really is a life-saver” - Worksop cancer charity awarded major Heritage Lottery Funding

Aurora Wellbeing Centre feature.'Benjamin Eckersley and Debra Fores outside the Aurora centre on Memorial Avenue.
Aurora Wellbeing Centre feature.'Benjamin Eckersley and Debra Fores outside the Aurora centre on Memorial Avenue.

“The Aurora Wellbeing Centre is about being there for people, giving them the support they need and making them feel welcome.”

This was a line that stuck with me as I was kindly given a guided a tour at the Worksop cancer charity’s base at the old Worksop Library and Museum on Memorial Avenue.

Aurora Wellbeing Centre feature.'Volunteer, Steve Spencer in the reception area.

Aurora Wellbeing Centre feature.'Volunteer, Steve Spencer in the reception area.

I too was made to feel very welcome.

Upon my arrival, I was warmly greeted with a smile and a handshake.

It was lunch time at Aurora on Monday and people were enjoying a slice of cake over a cup of tea.

The visitors were laughing and joking and seemed, for the time being, free from their worries.

Aurora Wellbeing Centre feature.'Volunteers from left, Angela Edeson, Irene Smith and Doreen Price.

Aurora Wellbeing Centre feature.'Volunteers from left, Angela Edeson, Irene Smith and Doreen Price.

I could tell that staff and volunteers had an extra spring in their step - and they had good reason to.

For the centre has received funding of more than £131,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to help develop their plans for a project exploring heritage and health. They will then be able to apply for full grant at a later date.

The idea behind the project is to renovate, conserve and restore the 1938 Grade II listed building, creating a multi-purpose centre.

It is hoped that a new space can be created within the centre, which will celebrate the heritage of the town and to install a virtual museum.

Chairman of the Aurora Wellbeing Centre, Chris Wanless.

Chairman of the Aurora Wellbeing Centre, Chris Wanless.

The ambitious blueprints also include developing heritage activity and volunteer programmes to help broaden community engagement.

The HLF invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect heritage - such as historic parks and buildings - with the money coming from National Lottery players.

The centre has achieved a “first-round pass”, which means the project meets HLF criteria for funding and has the potential to deliver high-quality benefits and value for Lottery money.

Aurora, which was established 10 years ago, now has up to two years to submit fully developed proposals to compete for a firm award.

Aurora Wellbeing Centre feature.'The cafeteria in the Aurora centre.

Aurora Wellbeing Centre feature.'The cafeteria in the Aurora centre.

Debra Fores, manager of the centre, whose husband died of cancer, said: “The money we have now secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund is crucial to our longer term vision to remain a key service for the locality of Bassetlaw, providing innovative and supportive services to the community.

“It will allow both the heritage and charitable work of Aurora to grow alongside each other productively and go from strength-to-strength.”

As I was walking around the centre, it got me thinking about the historical importance of the old library and museum, just yards away from the new modern facility.

According to the history books, it would seem the development of Britain’s library service owes a lot to the Worksop Library.

It opened years before the introduction of the 1850 Public Libraries Act, which first gave the power to establish free public libraries.

During the First World War, books were distributed to branches by the librarian on his motorcycle because of a shortage of petrol. This scheme proved successful and was used across the rest of the county.

The Aurora Wellbeing Centre Macmillan hub. Picture: Andrew Roe

The Aurora Wellbeing Centre Macmillan hub. Picture: Andrew Roe

In 1928, the library became the Worksop Library and Museum, but in 1932, it had to close because of flood damage.

A purpose-built new museum and library opened in 1938, which is the building that this project focuses on.

The museum closed in 1983, and the building finally closed as a library in 2010, when the council began to seek a new purpose for the building. Aurora then moved into the building in 2012.

On the proposed plans, cancer survivor, Ben Eckersley, who is involved with data analysis at Aurora, said: “The idea behind it is to restore and reinvigorate the old library to secure its use for future generations and to bring it back to community function.

“Cancer is a very bewildering and frightening time for families, but just knowing that you have somewhere to go and people that understand is very important.”

What Ben said lingered with me for a while. It got me thinking how places like this are vital to communities, not just in Worksop.

For some people, coming here is their only way of finding company.

Every individual has their own personal story, but each just as important.

I met people who had lost loved ones to cancer, others who had survived the illness themselves.

On my visit I was introduced to some of the 40 outstanding volunteers, some who retired years ago, others who are at college - but the centre still needs more.

Irene Smith, aged 83, who helps ordering the books and selling cakes, told me: “I volunteer four days a week.

“I first got involved by offering to help my son who was working in the gym and it went from there.

“I love it here, it gets me out of the house.”

When I asked her how long she will carry on volunteering, she joked: “Until I drop.”

Fellow volunteer, Doreen Price, who has worked at Aurora for three years, said: “I find it very rewarding. It is lovely meeting people.”

Of the volunteers, Debra said: “Our services and the daily work of the centre rely heavily on the efforts of our vital local volunteers. Without their efforts, we would not be able to offer the breadth of services we currently provide.

“But we still need more volunteers and I hope people want to get involved.”

As well as helping people who have been affected by cancer in some way, the centre also offers a number of other services which are focused on survivorship and living with cancer.

From pilates to art classes to counselling, it has something to offer everyone, no matter how old or young.

“The wellbeing centre has given the town a central hub for the community, working in partnership with the local council, college, library and heritage partners to provide a wide range of services,” Chris Wanless, the charity’s chairman said.

“Whilst our central commitment remains to support people undergoing their cancer journey, our location in Worksop allows us to provide a wider range of services and interact and interface with other vital aspects of community, such as heritage and connections to heritage, to improve wellbeing for all.”

Bassetlaw District Council offered their congratulations to Aurora, and also said that should their bid for a full grant be successful, the council will set aside additional funding of £231,000 to help with improvements.

Councillor Jo White, cabinet member for regeneration at the district council, said: “We would like to congratulate Aurora Wellbeing on their successful initial bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund that will help to conserve the heritage of one of Worksop’s most recognisable buildings and allow this fantastic local charity to expand their services.

“Their ambition to combine vital cancer support services for the local community with the addition of a new space that will celebrate the heritage of the old library and museum is something that the council is very much looking forward to seeing.”

From my experience, it is a place that we should shout from the rooftops about, it really is a life-saver.

The centre is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30am to 4.30pm.

l Call Aurora on 01909 470985 or visit www.hlf.org.uk or follow @heritagelottery for more information.