23 August 2016
A purpose-built community hub at Birmingham’s new John Lewis store has given dozens of city charities a huge boost following ‘phenomenal’ demand for much-needed meeting space.
Charitable organisations ranging from Cancer Research to Barnardo’s and the Birmingham and West Midlands Knitting and Crochet Guild have flocked to take advantage of free accommodation in the city centre department store’s Community Hub.
More than 100 charities – many previously unable to afford to hire rooms – have booked the Hub so far and up to 10 inquiries a day are flooding in to John Lewis as word circulates over its availability.
Shani Ellis, PR, Marketing and Community Liaison Co-ordinator for John Lewis Birmingham, said: “We have had an extraordinary demand from charities. I do not think that we realized the need for accessible space in Birmingham city centre for charities – so many groups cannot afford to hire a room in the city centre.
“I think the reason it works is that there is no charge and it is so accessible, being part of Grand Central. It is not a commercial space or a profit-making activity, it is bringing in customers to us and it may be bringing in people who might not otherwise have come to John Lewis or who have not been into John Lewis before.
“The space is free of charge, I have got 104 different charities using it and a total of 244 days have been booked this year over a 12-year period until the end of January 2017. Around 90 per cent of the inquiries are word of mouth – I get between five and 10 inquiries a day from people wanting to use it.”
The facility, which can seat up to 50 people cinema-style from 9am to 7.45pm Mondays to Saturdays and from 10.30 am to 4.45pm on Sundays, has already catered for a huge range of charities, from organisations fighting drug and alcohol abuse to brain tumour support and hearing loss groups.
Shani Ellis added: “To have a resource to bring customers into the shop who might not otherwise have come in is special for us. It has become a true community resource and that is what is most gratifying about it.
“We are the only John Lewis shop to open up with a designated community hub. The company is thrilled with the way it is being used and how it has become such a valuable asset to a huge number of people.
“For 2017, 70 days are booked already by nine different groups. We want to support the community and this is a great way of doing it."
Janet Collins, convenor of the Birmingham branch of the Knitting and Crochet Guild, said: "Our Birmingham branch exists in no small part because of the free room in John Lewis.
"They have been amazing and so community-spirited. The Guild had ceased to exist in Birmingham. You can pay £30 or £50 per hour in the city for a meeting room.
"We had tried public space but it didn't work. But the John Lewis Community Hub is free - it doesn't cost us a penny.
"We have a workshop every month. We are learning new skills - we are doing work for charity."
Janet said the room at John Lewis had also been booked by the Guild's national board in November for discussions over the body's National Convention to be held in Birmingham at the Ibis Hotel next July.
"The John Lewis Community Hub is exactly the right place to meet. It has done a great deal for knitting and crochet in Birmingham and it is also putting Birmingham on the map.
"It has been an absolute godsend for us. When you have no money in the bank it is difficult to find meeting space."
Pictured: The John Lewis Community Hub space is put to good use