The 'factory' that's become a sanctuary for its community

Sandra Duncan, chief executive of Netherton Feelgood Factory, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary
-Credit: (Image: Andrew Teebay Liverpool Echo)


Over the course of the last twenty five years, a community centre has become a sanctuary from isolation and despair.

Netherton's Feelgood Factory was founded in 1999 and is a community-led healthy living centre which works tirelessly to support local people. This week, the centre celebrated its 25th anniversary with a series of events to show its appreciation for volunteers, staff and visitors.

The original aim in establishing the Feelgood Factory, was to create a welcoming and inclusive space to facilitate projects designed to improve the health and wellbeing of local residents. Over the course of the last quarter century, the centre has created a range of services to do just that.

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The services currently offered at the Feelgood include befriending, provision for mental and physical health, classes in nutrition, gardening and support for parents and families. It is something Chief Executive, Sandra Duncan is immensely proud of. She said: "We do act as a one-stop shop for help and advice as we are in the centre of Netherton and convenient for people to access.

"For me it is all about the local people. We are small enough to know what people need and to be able to mobilise quickly to meet them.

"We cannot do everything but we have tried our best over the past 25 years to meet as many as we could."

There have been many accomplishments since it launched, but raising the £2m in funds to build a purpose-built community centre is certainly a highlight. However, for Sandra, it was the Feelgood pandemic response which really showed the importance of the centre's work.

For two decades, the core practice of the Feelgood's services was based on face-to-face interactions and providing a place where people could meet, socialise and enjoy peer-to-peer support.

Internal research shows the main reason people visit the Feelgood is to meet other people, to make friends and to take part in new hobbies such as exercise classes, creative writing and crafts. The pandemic in 2020 fundamentally altered the way centres like the Feelgood could operate.

Sandra said: "Overnight we had to change. We needed to meet the same demands - the same needs - but in a very different way. I remember we ran one of the few shopping services in Sefton and the phone just rang constantly for over a week with requests for help.

Sandra with staff, volunteers and local residents outside the Feelgood Factory
Sandra with staff, volunteers and local residents outside the Feelgood Factory -Credit:Andrew Teebay Liverpool Echo

"Sadly, we had no way to get food. At one point we had heroic volunteers queuing up outside supermarkets to access food.

"In addition, we set up a telephone support service and rang more than 200 people a week. We also embraced technology and developed ways of providing interest activities for those stuck at home.

"Once again, it was the community who rallied to our aid in so many ways."

There have also been other challenges to face. Like many charitable organisations, the Feelgood is locked in a two-way struggle - an increase in people needing to access its services and a decrease in the availability of statutory funding. A report published earlier this year by Nottingham University showed there had been a £13.2bn reduction in council funding to charities since 2010.

Local government has been an important funder for the charity sector, but increased financial pressures and reported cuts to funding from central government, means this vital funding source has decreased over time.

Sandra continued: "The last few years have been particularly challenging.

"More people now fall between the cracks in existing provision and they are turning to local charities like the Feelgood Factory for vital help. But, statutory funding has dwindled and we have had to find other ways to provide income to keep going.

"As with most charities the decrease in grant-funding has been accompanied by an increase in need for support services. Charities require funds to keep services going and doors open and we start each year knowing we need to raise about £100,000 to keep going – that is a constant headache."

Asked what Sandra has planned for the next twenty five years, she joked: Well, I won’t be here in 25 years unless I am going to try for the record as the oldest charity CEO in the country

"I originally only intended to stay for three years and have now been here for eighteen!

"I think, though, if I can speak for those who come after me, that I would hope we will remain as we are now – an integral part of the local community, being flexible, adaptable and approachable enough to make a difference in Netherton".

Sandra Duncan (Chief Executive), of Netherton Feelgood Factory (left), celebrating their 25th Anniversary, with Linda Cluskey (Trustee), in the Charity Shop.
Sandra Duncan (Chief Executive), of Netherton Feelgood Factory (left), celebrating their 25th Anniversary, with Linda Cluskey (Trustee), in the Charity Shop. -Credit:Andrew Teebay Liverpool Echo

Sandra continued: "The last few years have been particularly challenging.

"More people now fall between the cracks in existing provision and they are turning to local charities like the Feelgood Factory for vital help. But, statutory funding has dwindled and we have had to find other ways to provide income to keep going.

"As with most charities the decrease in grant-funding has been accompanied by an increase in need for support services. Charities require funds to keep services going and doors open and we start each year knowing we need to raise about £100,000 to keep going – that is a constant headache."

Asked what Sandra has planned for the next twenty five years, she joked: Well, I won’t be here in 25 years unless I am going to try for the record as the oldest charity CEO in the country

"I originally only intended to stay for three years and have now been here for eighteen!

"I think, though, if I can speak for those who come after me, that I would hope we will remain as we are now – an integral part of the local community, being flexible, adaptable and approachable enough to make a difference in Netherton".

You can find out more about The Feelgood Factory and support them by visiting the website HERE.

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