It is a town of about 8,000 people. But there’s no train station, it’s a 35-minute bus ride to the nearest theater or cinema and even the pubs are closed.
The Trafford suburb of Partington, a once overspill estate on the far western edge of Greater Manchester, has long suffered from a lack of facilities, taken for granted in many other places.
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But a charity on the outskirts of the city is trying to change that, overseeing the rebirth of a building once touted as ‘Britain’s biggest youth club’. Built using a £5m government grant, the Fuse Center was a big deal for Partington when it first opened in 2011.
The state-of-the-art building came with a 250-capacity theatre, dance and recording studios, sports hall, café and computer suite. But the first incarnation of Fuse was short-lived. After just 18 months funding problems meant the youth club closed.
Stepping into the difference was Debra Green OBE, director and founder of Redeeming Our Communities, a charity that works with grassroots groups to improve local communities. She was offered to rent the building on a 22-year lease, with the understanding that the ROC would provide some of the facilities and activities that Partington badly needed.
And, ever since, ROC has been working to put the center back on the map. “It really was a miracle story,” Debra said. “As soon as I walked in I knew it had to happen.
“But it was really challenging at first. We suddenly inherited a building of this size and we didn’t necessarily know what to do with it.
“The government out of the kindness of their heart did not transfer the ownership of this building to the charity. In return we have to provide services that the government is probably struggling to provide at the moment. It is down to the voluntary sector like us to fill . Difference.”
The Fuse now hosts a food bank, football club, art projects and summer clubs, while the theater has been used for boxing, a weekly cinema club, fashion shows and auctions. League Two football club, Salford City, owned by Gary Neville and his fellow ‘Class of 92’ team-mates, now have youth teams training there.
The center is also building a reputation in TV circles, with CBeebies and fashion expert Gok Wan recently using the theater for filming.
Debra said, “Partington is a little weak.” “If you have a car that’s fine, but a lot of people here don’t and public transport can be quite a challenge.
“There’s no train station, it takes about an hour by bus to Manchester city centre. If you want to go to the theater or cinema the nearest places are in Altrincham but people tell us they can’t be back until it’s too late Night bus
“But that’s all changing. They’re building lots of houses here, but what’s the infrastructure like? There’s a library, a small Tesco, but no pubs anymore.
“We haven’t got the facilities to support the people who live here. So a center like this is really important.
“Partington needs more facilities, more activities that people can be a part of.”
Fuse already does a lot. But Sarah Mhlanga, Debra’s daughter and ROC’s creative director, says it has the potential to do much more.
“We have the facilities here, we have room to do a lot, but it comes down to funding,” she said. I would love to have a summer club and bring in 90 kids, but we can’t do it on our own.
“We want to keep this building for community use, but we can’t do everything we want to do without funding.”
Next week, however, marks a major step forward in the ROC’s efforts. Sarah has been working on the first theater productions since the charity took over the building.
The short plays Banter and The List will appear back-to-back on Thursday and Friday 16 and 17 March. And Sarah hopes she will be the first of many.
“People might not consider themselves theater-goers, but if it’s down the road it could be something they try and really like,” she said. “It’s about that reach.
“And it’s about raising aspirations for people in the community. If they see the BBC filming here, they might think this is something I can do.”
Tickets for Banter and The List are available here.