Waterloo Action Centre: join community

Many of us pass by countless old buildings in Lambeth every day without stopping to think what is going on inside them. If you are new to the area, the Waterloo Action Centre (WAC) building on Baylis Road near Waterloo Millennium Green may very well be one of them. A beautiful late Victorian red brick building, its traditional appearance belies its vibrancy and dynamism as home to modern Waterloo, supporting the needs of its diverse community.

The WAC building has a long history. Constructed in 1893, it was the North Lambeth Library until the early 1960s, having survived the Blitz during World War II. The building remained empty for a decade, falling into a bad state. Then, in the mid-70s, the old library was put back into its rightful place at the heart of Waterloo, becoming a community centre to support the area at a time of rapid redevelopment.It also has national status having won The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest public award for the charity sector.

The WAC has now been at the centre of Waterloo life for over 40 years. Some charities get stuck in time, but seven of the WAC’s trustees are elected annually by tenants’ associations and other local community groups meaning there is always strong outside involvement, with the Centre evolving to meet changing local needs.

After work activities: TheWAC offers early evening exercise –classes in sword fencing, karate arts, rock n’ Roll, Tango, Zumba. For those who only recover their energy by Sunday evening, the London School of Samba is at the WAC from 6-9pm, with dance and drumming classes.

Less energetic regular weekly activities include life drawing on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, Yoga on and Pilates on Fridays, and Waterloo Anxiety Readers a small book group for people, usually in their 20s and 30s, struggling with mental health difficulties.

For after-school activities: aimed at children as well as adults, the Dilek Tapik School of Dance offers classes between 4.15pm and7pm on Wednesdays.  Historically, the WAC has not focused on children and teenagers except as part of families and community events. This is because when the WAC was established, young people said they would prefer their own space and so the WAC helped them get an adventure playground and a barge off the Thames as a clubhouse. When the Millennium Green was developed, children and youth provision were moved to the Living Space on Coral Street.

Weekly daytime activities:  at the WAC include a lunchtime choir, movement and meditation, line dancing, gentle exercise, and a monthly Tea Dance. Tuesday afternoons have groups doing dressmaking/tailoring and repairs and knitting and crocheting, while the WAC Arts group paints. In addition to clothes and art, these groups also produce a lot of laughter.Mauritian Pensioners take time out from other activities to meet for an hour playing Lotto/Bingo and chatting in their home language – other French speakers are welcome too. For the past eight years, there has been a free weekly day out for older people using their Freedom passes. Usually its green spaces in the summer and galleries and museums in the winter.

The WAC receives no statutory grants but some of the daytime activity is free or at subsidised rates.  All costs are kept as low as possible so the community is well served.

The WAC also supports the largest volunteer-run legal advice service in the UK. About 85 individuals/families get help each Thursday evening by lawyers who come after work.

It also helps people with benefit claims during the daytime, although there is a waiting system for this as the WAC can unfortunately no longer be funded by the Council to pay advice staff.

Many other activities take place in the WAC, including eight ethnic minority led church services. The Bangladeshi Community Group also has an office. A wide range of meetings are held in the WAC and space is also let for family parties.  Open 7 days a week, the WAC has over 20,000 users a year with 62 percent coming from black and other ethnic minority backgrounds

For additional information and timetable for classes go to: www.waterlooactioncentre.co.uk  Call: 020 7261 1404. OR why not go there directly? WAC, 14 Baylis Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 7AA. A 10-minute film about WAC can be accessed from the website.  Stay healthy, save the NHS money, meet other people by getting active at WAC. Volunteers are also needed e.g. helping on reception and gardening. The sewing group on Tuesday afternoon is crowded with learners but needs more volunteers with dressmaking or tailoring skills.

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