Waterloo Action Centre was established by the local community in the early 70s.
The building was derelict; poor conditions having led the Council to move the Library out seven years earlier. Community effort has gradually brought all of the building back into use and added a new floor.
Today its activities include a day time advice service in five languages, a weekly legal advice service run by a team of volunteer lawyers, activities by and for older people four days a week, weekend and after work leisure/learning including sword fencing, rock and roll, and creative arts. There are offices for the Bangladeshi Community Group, Great Lakes African Women's Network, a Waterloo Town Planning Group, as well as a community office for local volunteers. Saturday activities include space to hire for family celebrations as most local people live in flats. On Sundays 9 different churches hold services, which are then followed by Latin American music and dance.
WAC opens 7 days a week. There are over 20,500 different users a year some coming several times a week. Annual financial costs are about £250K a year. Unpaid effort and gifts in kind are worth considerably more than double this, keeping things affordable.
Kate Hoey MP said “Waterloo Action Centre plays an important part in the lives of many of my constituents. I greatly welcome this recognition of the efforts of all those involved. The range and diversity of those who contribute is a crucial element in WAC’s success”.
WAC was developed from the grass roots and is based on an awareness of the potential which “ordinary” people possess. Most cannot have their own building so WAC provides space for the group or individual to use as they wish for the time they need, so the halls become a church , a 1960s Rock and Roll party , a conference room or anything else the users envisage. We rely on and nourish the reciprocity which is hallmark of community.
Most activities in WAC are self running by their users. A wide range of activities means that there is a lot to choose between and also a spread of involvement so as many people as possible get an opportunity to contribute without being overburdened. This mutual support model is economical and effective because people not only give their time, they also design the activity themselves so that it meets the needs of that community eg by being in the right language.