Bridge Project social enterprise set for 'seismic step forward' with plans to expand presence into multiple locations across Sudbury
A “seismic step forward” has been set out by a long-running social enterprise, which has emerged from Covid-19 uncertainty with plans to evolve its services at multiple new locations across Sudbury.
The Bridge Project submitted a formal planning application on Friday, seeking to establish a new hub next to AFC Sudbury’s grounds to expand its range of activities and services for vulnerable people in the community.
The facility will re-purpose a former college building, which was transported to Sudbury after being acquired for just £1, and will use local contractors to develop the site.
If approved, it could be up and running as early as May, and will represent a 75 per cent increase in size from the charity’s current base in Gainsborough Street, which is being sold off in two parts.
The plans build upon the organisation's partnership with AFC Sudbury, which was announced last year and has seen them serve as the hospitality provider on match days.
Bridge Project chief executive Dave Jackson said the move would fundamentally change what they can do, and create so many more opportunities for its adult students and for volunteers.
This includes access to around two acres of outdoor space, where students will learn how to grow and cook food, which will then support the charity’s meal delivery service.
“This gives us a complete central one-stop shop in an absolutely stunning environment,” Mr Jackson told Suffolk News. "It fits in really nicely with our environmental policy, which is to get as close to carbon neutral as possible with the whole building.
“Seeing the students move over to this facility will be spectacular. They are involved in this process right the way through.
"We're going back to the very basics of working in nature and hands-in-the-earth learning.We are looking at the idea of 'farm to fork' and 'plot to plate'.
"We can create this really nice story of students growing the veg that walks 100 yards into the kitchen that then goes to create fresh home-cooked foods that then goes out to serve 60 or 70 of the most vulnerable members of the community. The synergy between the two of them is fascinating."
Trustees chairman Paul Mackman added: “The move to the current premises was a major thing for the charity at the time.
“Now, it’s another equivalent, seismic step forward. Every part of our operation is going to up-scale significantly.
“We’ve just started. We’ve been at AFC Sudbury since last summer, but the plans are really going to raise our game in terms of hospitality provision, and across the board.”
There are also proposals to create a new access point from the train-line footpath next to AFC Sudbury, along with a food and drink kiosk operated by the charity’s students.
Separately, The Bridge Project also picked up the keys to a new unit at the Borehamgate precinct on Monday, as part of plans to increase its presence in Sudbury town centre.
The unit, targeted for opening within the next three months, will serve as a café and shop to sell the creations of the charity’s adult students, as well as providing a rental space for local artists.
Mr Jackson, who previously spent ten years working at YMCA in Somerset before joining The Bridge Project, said: “Every penny spent in this shop will help support our students to try new things.
"It's also about creating an opportunity to celebrate what our students create, but also celebrate what the rest of the community makes, and try to link those together.
“That underpins every decision we’re making – how many touch points can we create where our students can really feel like they can thrive, contribute and belong to the community?
“The students get such a sense of unity from their peers, our staff and the community that their confidence grows day in, day out.
"When they are comfortable, we give them these interactions they wouldn’t normally get, which provide valuable work experience that are also revenue generating.
“They provide an absolutely invaluable part of our social enterprise. The confidence that gives them is incredible to watch.”
In addition to this, The Bridge Project has confirmed that it will serve as the official hospitality of St Peter's on Market Hill, once the venue re-opens following its major regeneration scheme.
Further plans to grow its presence in the town centre are also in the works, to be detailed at a later date.
The ambitions plans arrive in stark contrast to the uncertainty of 18 months ago, when much of The Bridge Project’s usual activities were heavily impacted by the pandemic.
In addition to substantial financial support from funding bodies and the community to stay afloat, Mr Mackman explained they had taken the opportunity to reflect and reassess their mission statement.
This resulted in a new five-year growth plan, and adaptations based on market research into the needs of its clients and their families.
"It's a beautiful turnaround," said Mr Mackman. "We started by saying how dire it was, but now there's nothing but positive stories to tell.
“When you have a crisis like Covid, you have to change very quickly. It was about taking a good, hard look at ourselves.
“In a very short period of time, Covid sped up a lot of things that were going to happen anyway, and that’s true of The Bridge Project.
“We’ve evolved over a two-year period in a way that probably would have taken us 10 years. We have collectively got such a focus now. It's that flexibility to change based on need.
"Our group has a sense of fun, a sense of humour and you can't have a bad day. If you create these wonderful environments, you can't fail to be positive.
"We will be looking to increase that impact and increase the opportunities for our student user group to develop themselves and have more interactions with the public."
The Bridge Project is still open at Gainsborough Street, while new volunteers are being sought. To contact the charity, call 01787 313691, and for more information, click here.