Community centre ready for reopening after being a lockdown 'inspiration'

Andrew MacPherson, chair of the Coddenham Centre

Andrew MacPherson, chair of the Coddenham Centre - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Archant

Andrew MacPherson, chair of local charity the Coddenham Centre, said the way the village's “vibrant community” has come together during Covid-19 is an inspiration. 

He is looking forward to the centre fully reopening under the government’s roadmap, and it is offering 20 different activities – ranging from tennis, lawn bowls and badminton to yoga and Pilates.

The centre also co-founded the Coddenham Community Response Group, which has done everything from distributing goodwill packages to providing a "telephone tree” support service during coronavirus. 

"It's a great example of how, with a bit of leadership, a community can unleash a lot of positive energy together,” Andrew said. 

The Coddenham Centre only launched as a charity in November 2019 – and within six months was facing Covid-19 and the first lockdown.

Andrew MacPherson, chair of the Coddenham Centre

Andrew MacPherson, chair of the Coddenham Centre - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Archant

There have been challenges, including the failure of the old hot water system. But he said: “We’ve nonetheless still managed to successfully support the health and wellbeing of a vibrant community, in what are challenging times for all.” 

The centre was opened by Princess Anne in 2004, and Andrew was asked by Coddenham Parish Council in 2018 to organise relaunching the centre as a charity, working together with Ray Collins, the centre’s treasurer.

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The two have since been joined by Debbie McDonnall as trustees and work together with centre manager Gail Springett. They also work closely with supporters including Mid Suffolk District Council , Suffolk County Council,  local charities and the parish council.

Before Covid-19 struck, and in between lockdowns, the centre has operated outdoor activities including a gym. It has also supported people via its website, which is a community hub.

The Suffolk School of Nordic Walking was launched at the centre just weeks before the first lockdown, led by instructor Jane MacPherson, Andrew's wife. She has changed career after many years as a successful classical musician under the name Jane Marshall.  

"We always felt it was important to offer facilities to be able to maintain the health and wellbeing of the community, and this became even more important because of Covid 19,” Andrew said. 

He emphasised the importance of exercise to keep up both physical and mental health.

Andrew MacPherson in the countryside outside The Coddenham Centre

Andrew MacPherson in the countryside outside The Coddenham Centre - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Archant

In March 2020, when the first lockdown began, Coddenham Community Response Group was formed – and created a new dedicated parish website in just 72 hours. 

Founding members were The Coddenham Centre, Community Shop, the Day Foundation, the Gardemau Trust, St Mary’s Church and the Parochial Church Council. The current chair, part of a three-monthly rotation, is David McDonnall. 

Villagers distributed "goodwill” packages containing food and gifts, all sourced from the Community Shop, issued a newsletter and launched a ‘telephone tree’ support service. 

Andrew said: "The community in Coddenham has been great and very supportive. One of the most important things has been the psychological reassurance, and being aware that people are there to help.  

“It's all about encouragement and giving people the support to help themselves and help others.” 

Andrew has had various roles over his career, leading projects in international ferry services, airlines, rail and the NHS. He summed it up as: “A lifetime of trains, boats, planes and eventually (hospital) beds, adding: "I have been fortunate enough to work with some great people." 

He said the common factor is that he has always been working with people and helping to motivate and encourage them.

Locally, he was appointed by the National Express Group as customer services director in East Anglia, for what was then the largest rail franchise ever created. 

Another role was as a non-executive director of Ipswich Hospital Trust, where he chaired the Garrett Anderson Centre new build project. He said: “My NHS work both locally and nationally, was very fulfilling.” 

He was also involved in the international music industry for nearly 20 years, with executive production credits for over 100 concerts and tours in the UK and USA. 

The Coddenham Centre is now looking forward and planning to launch more activities as it becomes possible. Recently it has reopened a parent-toddler group,  and there are now plans to extend this to 10 villages in the area. 

Andrew stressed the Coddenham Centre is not just for people in the village itself, but also for those from surrounding areas. For more information, visit the centre's website.