A BAND of residents who have worked tirelessly for seven years to improve the lives of their community are close to achieving their dream.

Now all the board of the John Holt Community Centre in Westhoughton need is a final £3,500, which they are seeking through a crowd-funding appeal.

Council cuts meant the John Holt Youth Centre - as it was originally called - was facing the axe. But, knowing how important it was to the community, Doug Cunliffe and four other volunteers approached the council with a bid to take over its running.

They were successful, were granted a 25-year lease and since 2012 have been running the renamed John Holt Community Centre.

“Our vision was to transform an old underused centre into a place for all the community to use and enjoy on a daily basis,” said Mr Cunliffe.

The centre quickly began to thrive and now has almost 200 members who use it on a weekly basis.

It has expanded its scope to include all members of the community regardless of age.

“We provide a range of activities and cater for a lot of different groups including a sewing machine club for pensioners and street dance and baking classes for youngsters,” said Mr Cunliffe.

Along with centre, the group also took over the adjoining multi-use games area and has big ideas to improve it.

“Over the years it had become run down with repairs not taking place and general neglect to such an extent that the local community simply called it “the cage” as sadly, that is what it had become.”

Plans for it include an outdoor gym, a fully marked out five- a-side football pitch, basketball courts, community gardens, benches, timed floodlights, and a general makeover of the existing facilities.

“This will be a much-needed facility in our community, encouraging residents to improve their health, fitness and well-being, as well as encouraging community cohesion” said Mr Cunliffe.

He added: “Regular exercise improves both physical and mental well-being; and this will have benefits for the wider community as well as the individual.

“Our centre is in the middle of a large social housing estate that has large unemployment figures and lack of opportunities. Many people are discouraged from exercising by the lack of opportunities or facilities locally or the high cost of gym membership which many cannot afford.”

Since taking over the centre, the board has attracted a significant amount of funding through grants.

The charity Children in Need was so impressed by their efforts that they awarded it £30,000.

Social housing provider Bolton at Home has also given it its full backing knowing what a valuable facility it is for those living in the area.

“After seven years we are very close to achieving our goal with just the outside of the centre and its surrounding areas to finish,” said Mr Cunliffe.

“Many hours of planning have gone into the project over the last two years and it may seem ambitious but we know that it is achievable and with people’s help it can happen.”

To donate to the appeal please visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/improve-community-outdoor-area-in-westhoughton. To learn more about what the centre offers please telephone 01942 859535.