In our 30th anniversary year, Hornsey Vale volunteer and journalist Jackie Bischof interviews two people who are central to the success of the community centre
Dennis and Ursula Bury have been involved with the Hornsey Vale Community Centre for so many years, that Stationer’s Park was still part of a school—and not the park we know today—when they started out.
For at least 30 years, they have been both volunteers at the centre, serving on the Management Committee, assisting with events, acting as booking officers, and users of it (currently badminton and kung fu for Dennis, yoga for Ursula.)
The couple have lived in the same house on Mayfield Road, just up from the centre, since 1980. They are keyholders for the building, and Dennis continues to run a long-term badminton league which meets in the centre on Sunday nights, and is devotedly non-competitive.
“We’ve had, in all those years, one coaching session which changed us actually,” Dennis says. “We learned a lot of interesting things, and perhaps we’ll do that again. But we’re there to play, not to learn.”
Dennis, a chartered psychologist, has enjoyed volunteering in formal roles as a way to meet people. He is also currently involved with the Holy Trinity Food Bank in Stroud Green.
“Community centres are vital in making sure people aren’t isolated,” says Dennis. The social, mental, and physical opportunities provided by the centre “are an amazing thing to get us out of our little boxes,” citing the song by Malvina Reynolds which playfully describes living a conventional, and disengaged, suburban life.
He describes Hornsey Vale as an inclusive, open, and multicultural space. Even when it is absent of people, and completely still, a sense of atmosphere remains. “You kind of sense the presence of people there.”
Volunteers like Dennis and Ursula are vital to ensuring a place like the Hornsey Vale Community Centre remains viable and open to all. Says Ursula: “Volunteers are a basic ingredient [to the centre’s success] as I have seen since the inception. It is a jewel in the community and one can only be very fond of it.”
As any business needs reserves for lean times, community centres “have people,” Dennis says. “Volunteers are part of the resilience” of a place like Hornsey Vale.
How have they managed to stay committed to the centre for so long, and what would be their advice to others considering volunteering, and worrying about whether they can commit? “You’ve got to keep somewhere in your mind the benefits that [your time] gives to everybody,” Dennis says. Having a resource like the centre, that is free or relatively inexpensive and open to all, isn’t something people can take for granted. “Unless people volunteer, the life of the centre won’t happen. And that’s just the end of it!”