Community centre built on former Sunderland AFC ground saved from closure after group steps in

A community centre which has stood at the heart of an estate for six decades has been saved from closure.

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 4:55 am

Thompson Park Community Centre, off Newbold Avenue in Monkwearmouth, looked set to close when the outgoing committee announced on Facebook they were dissolving the association.

But a group of residents, many of whom have used the centre since they were children, have formed a new committee to keep it going.

It’s a fitting new chapter for the centre, which was created 65 years ago after residents clubbed together to build the centre on the site of the Black Cats’ sixth ground, which the team used from 1886-1898.

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Thompson Park Community Centre new committee from left Cllr Alex Samuels, resident secretary Fiona Tobin and chair Cllr Michael Butler.

Over the decades, the centre has become a meeting place for a host of groups including bingo groups, football fans who use the bar before matches, self defence and martial arts groups, cancer support groups, parent and toddler groups, as well as theatrical groups who use the stage.

New chairperson Michael Butler, who is also a councillor for Southwick ward, said: “It would have been a travesty for the centre to close. It was built by the community and has a great history. I believe they raised £2,000 at the time to build it.

"Someone sent me the notice of closure that was posted on Facebook and got in touch to see if I could help it remain open.”

With so much interest sparked on Facebook, a meeting originally scheduled to inform the public of the closure of the centre became one to discuss it staying open, with new volunteers coming forward to form a new committee.

Thompson Park Community Centre has been taken over by a new committee.

The key positions have now been filled, including Fiona Tobin as secretary and Cllr Alex Samuels, a fellow committee member.

Fiona, who has been one of the leading figures in saving the centre, said: “Many of us who’ve volunteered for the new committee used to come here for birthday parties when we were kids, and then brought our children here to toddler groups, and we really wanted to give something back.

“There can’t be any children in this area who haven’t come to a group here.

"There’s not many facilities in this area for children, and adults, so it’s a really important part of the community. Its bar has also become part of the match day experience for many people. We’ve already had a great response as a committee, there’s a good buzz.

Thompson Park Community Centre new committee from left Cllr Alex Samuels, resident secretary Fiona Tobin and chair Cllr Michael Butler.

"We’re also massively grateful to the outgoing committee too, for all they’ve done. There’s a huge amount of work that goes into being in the voluntary sector.”

The new community association are now working towards a grand reopening and to provide a full timetable of events, including the centre’s popular pantomimes.

They’re also applying for funding to spruce up the building and to improve its outdoor area. There’s a transition period while the handover takes place, but it’s hoped the new timetable will be up and running by Christmas.

Although the key roles are filled, new members are also welcome and can contact the association through its Facebook page by searching “Thompson Park Community Association.”

Thompson Park Community Centre Sunderland AFC blue plaque.

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