A redundant Warwickshire fire station is being reopened as a community centre following a grant of more than £206,000 from Defra's Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES).
Tysoe fire station was closed in March 1998 as part of a rationalisation programme for fire service provision across the county.
But villagers and people from around Tysoe wanted the building to continue playing a role in the life of the community.
In 2001 a group of local people was formed to save the building for the community and begin fundraising. It became the Tysoe Children's Group, a limited company with charitable status.
Now, six years since the building closed, the old fire station is reopening to provide custom-made accommodation for the village pre-school children; 'before and after school' clubs and holiday programmes; and a youth and adult education centre. Part of the building will also be rented out as office space for businesses.
Suzanne Holland, Chair and Director of Tysoe Children's Group Ltd, said: "Once the decision to close the fire station had been taken there was a real feeling in the area that we should try and keep the building doing something that is of benefit to the whole community - just as when it was a fire station.
"We are opening our doors for business straight after the Easter holidays and already there is a great deal of interest in various schemes for children. The services that are to be provided are, for the most part, simply not available locally.
"Nearly everyone in the village of Tysoe and the surrounding area has played a part in helping this to come about. We've run all sorts of fund raising events - fetes, murder mystery evenings, balls and dances, a farmer's market and children's activity days. We even abseiled down the church tower!
"We've had very generous donations and support from both individuals and local businesses but without the Defra grant we would have had a real problem reaching our target.
"In the future the money that's raised by the scheme will be ploughed straight back in, to enable us to keep improving the facilities that we are offering to the local community."
Steve Lund from Defra's Rural Development Service in the West Midlands said: "The Tysoe project is providing a really important service to a rural community. By providing this high quality and variety of childcare support, RES has helped to open the door for people who would otherwise not have been able to go into employment.
"There are limited work opportunities in and around Tysoe itself and people have to travel to the larger towns like Shipston on Stour, Stratford upon Avon and Banbury. If adequate childcare provision is not there, it just isn't feasible or realistic for people to go out and do that. Helping provide this type of service has a direct benefit for the rural economy of an area.
"The Community Hall will also be providing other services that directly benefit the community. By offering adult education and business accommodation the centre will also be providing a really impressive range of measures, all supporting and helping to develop the local economy."
There is an open day for people to visit and see the centre and find out about the services on offer on Saturday, 3rd April and it opens for business on Monday, 19th April.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES) is one of the 10 schemes which operate under the England Rural Development Programme. Its coverage is wide-ranging with the primary aim being to help farmers adapt to changing markets and develop new business opportunities. But RES also has a broader role in supporting the development of the rural economy, community, heritage and environment so other rural businesses, partnerships, companies and rural community groups are also eligible to receive funding.
2. A total of £152 million of EU and Government money has been allocated to RES from April 2001 to 2006. The scheme is available throughout England, except in designated Objective 1 areas such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly where separate funding schemes apply.
3. The England Rural Development Programme (ERDP) provides a framework for the operation of 10 separate but integrated schemes which provide new opportunities to protect and improve the countryside, to develop sustainable enterprises and to help rural communities to thrive. The schemes (and a brief outline of their aims) are:
* Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas Schemes: protecting landscapes and wildlife habitats, improving biodiversity.
* Organic Farming Scheme: promoting organic production.
* Hill Farm Allowance Scheme: supporting sustainable farming in the English hills.
* Woodland Grant and Farm Woodland Premium Schemes: encouraging planting of new woodland and maintenance of existing woodland.
* Energy Crops Scheme: (encouraging renewable energy production).
* Rural Enterprise Scheme: supporting a diversified and enterprising rural economy.
* Vocational Training Scheme: improving occupational skills of farmers.
* Processing and Marketing Grant: improving agricultural processing and marketing infrastructure.
4. A total of £1.6 billion of EU and Government money is being made available under these schemes in England during the 7 years (2000 to 2006) of the Programme.
5. For more information on any of the schemes in the ERDP, contact your local Defra Rural Development Service office or visit the Defra website at http://www.defra.gov.uk