THE FACES OF SHERBORNE
In our monthly series of “The Faces of Sherborne” we introduce you to the people behind the faces. This month (July 2012)
MEET BOB ECCLESHALL
CHAIRMAN, FRIENDS OF THE RENDEZVOUS
For most people, Cheap Street Church is a place of worship tucked away just off Cheap Street; for some it is a handy short-cut between Sherborne’s main shopping street and Sherborne School; others use its tranquil garden to pause and sit in; but for a few, it is a place of refuge where they can learn, relax and find friendship. As you approach the church, steps on your right take you down to the former crypt which, since 1998, houses the Rendezvous – or the Youth Resource Service to give it its official name. A welcoming coffee bar area leads off to a surprising rabbit-warren of other rooms: offices, a recording studio, a sound-proofed drumming area, a suite of computers and a learning area. On two mornings a week, it is open to all for tea, coffee and cake but on most afternoons its focus is on helping and supporting young people in a variety of ways. It is not inappropriate to say that, for many youngsters, it’s a god-send.
Read the full interview below:
Q: How did the Friends of the Rendezvous come about?
BE: Funding the activities of the Rendezvous has always been difficult and about four years ago a group of us decided that there should be some sort of formal group to help raise awareness and funds for the charity. We now have over one hundred signed-up members and we get support from many more. The centre costs about £100,000 a year to operate, much of that on staff costs as we need to employ fully-qualified youth workers even if they are on a part-time basis and we also get a lot of help from volunteers. Even so, we only receive a relatively small amount from the statutory bodies so the grants and donations we receive are critical. The Friends manage to raise about £20,000 p.a. through our events and activities.
Q: Do you have set objectives?
BE: Most definitely. First of all, it is a place where young people can meet and socialise with friends or play music. However, it is also a place where young people can find help. It does surprise some people that an apparently prosperous town like Sherborne needs such a facility but we deal with issues such as homelessness (we dealt with six cases a week in the run-up to Christmas last year), unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and family and relationship problems. We also provide training for all sorts of things, whether it is in preparation for an interview or improving computer skills or numeracy and literacy needs.
Q: Can anyone just turn up?
BE: More or less, the services are free and apply to anyone between the ages of 13 and 25. Usually, youngsters come to us through word-of-mouth or by being referred. They get free, professional, unbiased help and there is no pressure being applied. We open four days a week from 12 noon to 6.00pm at the moment. We would love to open in the evening but in order to do so we really need two supervisors and we are not able to support that financially at present.
Q: The need for professionals is understandable but what do you need volunteers for?
BE: Well we are always looking for volunteers – to serve behind the coffee bar or with skills such as cooking or computer technology or to help us with the various events that we put on. On 6th July we have a champagne, strawberries and jazz evening at Lewiston School and in August we are putting on an art exhibition from 6th to 20th at the Butterfly House in Castle Gardens; in October, we plan to have a concert. Last December, the Amateur Players of Sherborne helped us put on a very successful music-hall promotion. All of these activities need people to run them or supervise them or to have other organisations or associations involved and we are always happy to welcome new helpers.
Q: How do you publicise Rendezvous and your events?
BE: Mainly though PR – we have had some very good stories appearing in the local press. For example, one young girl who was referred to us was discovered to have a talent for singing and four years later she has meetings with top muisc labels in the pipeline – something she says could never have happened without Rendezvous. This and many other good news stories help to get us known.
Q: Bob, you are not originally from this part of the country. What brought you here?
BE: I’m originally from Wolverhampton but I spent most of my career in Belfast where I was a Professor of Politics and Head of Department at Queen’s University. On retiring, I wanted to move to the south of England and just by chance I drove through Sherborne and liked it. I had been here for a year or two when I got involved with Rendezvous as a volunteer. Apart from chairing the Friends I also act as Butler to the Abbey and I chair the social committee. I’m also a member of a rambling group which I enjoy very much.
Q: How do you describe Sherborne to prospective visitors?
BE: It’s an ideal small market town and very pretty. It has all of the facilities you need – railway, surgeries, shops etc – and all within walking distance. There are very friendly people. However, it also conceals the pockets of poverty and deprivation that exist.
To become a Friend of the Rendezvous (a minimum subscription of £10 is suggested) contact Christine Gibbs, Membership Secretary, on TEL 01935 813639. Or pop down on one of the coffee mornings on a Tuesday or Friday from 10.30 am to noon and pick up a leaflet.