Our early years – from our beginnings to 2004
The idea of buying a building in Brighton and Hove to provide accommodation and services for local community and voluntary groups first came into being in 1993. A group of individuals involved with the local voluntary sector and local government identified the need for such a building and decided to proceed with the formation of Community Base as a company and a charity.
Community Base was incorporated as a private limited company on 3rd November 1995 and registered as a charity on 30th January 1996. The memorandum of association of Community Base described the company’s object as promoting any charitable purpose for the benefit of the inhabitants of Sussex and beyond without distinction of sex, race, disability, sexuality or political, religious or other convictions by the provision of accommodation and equipment and services to charities and voluntary organisations engaged in the furthering of charitable purposes.
In April 1997 Community Base was established in what had been Eagle Star House, a seven floor insurance office in central Brighton with approximately 20,000 square feet of rentable space, a reception area, a large meeting room and an internal car park. Community and voluntary groups started moving into Community Base in June 1997 and within a year the building was fully occupied. The building was initially occupied under licence with the freehold being bought in March 1998 for £700,000.
The purchase of the freehold and the building’s initial refurbishment between 1997 and 1999 was financed from a mixture of grants, loans and revenue income. During this time we received grants of £191,000 from the Single Regeneration Budget, £120,000 from the Tudor Trust, £30,000 from the Lankelly Foundation, £15,000 from the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust and £4,000 from Brighton and Hove Council and borrowed £400,000 from the Nationwide Building Society over 35 years and £57,000 from Brighton and Hove Council for Voluntary Service over five years.
In 2001 we received a grant of £245,365 from the Community Fund towards a new roof and external repairs to our building and a grant of £20,000 from the Tudor Trust towards refurbishment. Having initially charged groups £8 per square foot per year inclusive of services to rent space at Community Base, we increased this to £10 in 2002 and £12 in 2004 to finance improvements to our building, increased loan repayments and increased running costs.
In 2002 we increased our loan from the Nationwide by £450,000, repaying our £57,000 loan from Brighton and Hove Council for Voluntary Service and using the rest to improve our property. In 2003 we increased our Nationwide loan by another £225,000 to finance further refurbishment. By March 2004 we had one loan outstanding, from the Nationwide, of £1,035,000.
By March 2004 we had transformed our building from a rundown office block into a thriving community centre offering a home to dozens of local charities and community groups. We did this by
- partitioning the building and decorating all communal areas
- installing a phone system, storage heating, signage and an access card system
- replacing our roof, repairing our external walls and installing new lifts
- installing new toilets throughout the building, some wheelchair accessible and some with baby changing facilities
- creating a cycle room, a coffee room and kitchens
- improving wheelchair access throughout the building
- establishing recycling facilities for paper, cardboard, glass, aluminium and plastic
- improving our reception facilities
- installing a landmark banner installation at the front of our building
- providing all groups with free broadband internet access
- making a high volume photocopier and post franking machine available to licencees.
- creating the South Wing, a suite of meeting rooms comprising a fifth floor conference room with beautiful views over Brighton and two smaller meeting rooms which we hire to community and voluntary groups whether they licenced space with us or not.
From the beginning, we were keen to encourage a culture of mutual support amongst groups at Community Base. By March 2004 we had published handbooks and newsletters for people working at Community Base, set up an email group for quick and easy communication between everyone in the building, organised Xmas parties and other social events, started a weekly lunchtime yoga session and established regular meetings between groups and the Community Base director. We held our first open days, where groups opened their doors to the public and each other, in January 2000, April 2002 and January 2004.
Our reception has always been at the heart of Community Base, providing a central contact point for visitors and everyone working in the building. As a result of our central location and our work raising Community Base’s profile in the local community, we soon found our reception being used as an enquiry point by a wide range of people in need of help.
In January 2000 we published our first annual Guide to Community Base listing the community and voluntary groups in our building. In January 2004, in response to demand from people visiting our reception and the lack of any existing guide, we expanded our guide to include listings of helplines and basic local services such as health centres, housing agencies and employment services.
In 2002 we published The Community Base guide to rooms for hire in Brighton and Hove, a free 60 page guide to local venues based on a much valued Resource Centre publication that was by then out of print. At the same time we published an online, searchable version of the information in this guide on our http://www.communitybase.org as Brighton and Hove venue search, a free information service we still maintain.