A venue to learn a new craft or skill. A café to meet friends for lunch or to just get out of the house. A shop to buy local gifts. A busy place of work and somewhere to learn or to volunteer. A community.

Appleby Hub is many things to many different people. And, for the second time, has just got bigger.

The Hub, based in a former Methodist chapel, has grown so popular among the community as a centre for arts and crafts, education and learning, shopping and eating that it has undergone another layout change in response to demand.

It recently reopened after closing for three months for the work to be carried out and now seems busier than ever. If ever there were a blueprint for bringing a run-down youth centre back to life as a vibrant venue for the whole community then Appleby Hub is it.

Great British Life: Appleby HubAppleby Hub (Image: Sheena Alcock)

It is led by Sarah Jones, its warm, welcoming and inclusive manager, who loves the Hub as much as any of its visitors for whom it provides a social lifeline. “It has a vibe that’s hard to explain,” she says.

“I think the Hub’s success is really down to the fact that it’s so much more than a nice café, shop and workshops. It really is the hub of the community. It’s about the love, thought and care that goes into every aspect of it, from the staff knowing people by name and knowing which chair or cup they like to the pea shoot and handpicked edible flower that finishes a beautiful plate of homemade food.

“Absolutely everyone is welcomed without prejudice or judgement. There’s always a hug for someone who needs it whether they’re bereaved or isolated and lonely. One lady said that as she has got older she has felt ignored and anonymous in the world but she never feels like that when she comes to the Hub.

“There are times when staff have delivered food to customers who are poorly and can’t make it to the Hub. We just feel so privileged to be able to work here and be part of it.”

Great British Life: Appleby Hub shopAppleby Hub shop (Image: Sheena Alcock)

The Oaklea Trust bought the old chapel, in Chapel Street, in 2005 when the building’s future was in jeopardy. Soon after, the town was hit with severe flooding so significant investment was needed by the Cumbrian charity just to get the venture underway. Appleby Hub was launched in spring 2016 and is operated by Right2Work, a social enterprise that is part of the Oaklea Trust whose strategy is built around community, learning and wellbeing.

Appleby Hub (or The Hub Cafe & Community Enterprise) embodies all three providing a centre for all interests, ages and abilities with a focus on creativity and wellbeing. Importantly, the café offers opportunities for people with learning disabilities to work and develop skills within a community setting.

The refurbishment in the summer saw the removal of a climbing wall in the main space of the building, a legacy of its time as a youth centre. Previously hidden behind large curtains, it took up space that could be better used to expand the café.

Great British Life: Weaver Frances IrvingWeaver Frances Irving (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Sarah explains: “We hung on to the climbing wall and tried to give it a last go, but there wasn’t demand. Removing it and the dark curtains has brought more light in and we’ve been able to use the space for more covers in the café, taking us up to 85.

“It’s allowed us to build in book shelves and create a new home for our Rotary Bookshop, which was in the shop and is organised by a volunteer, with half the money raised going to Rotary and half to the Hub. That has, in turn, created more space in the shop for our upcycled furniture and products by local makers and artisans.”

New flooring in the shop was covered by a grant from the Hadfield Trust and it has also been freshened up with more space to sells craft kits, a wide range of gifts and items in the vintage corner.

The café has been redecorated too, a mammoth task given its vaulted ceiling, deep windows and walls over 30ft tall requiring scaffolding, an investment supported by Cumbria Community Foundation. The walls have been whitewashed and the previous dark blue ceiling painted a lighter royal blue with gold stars representing the constellations. The window reveals have also been painted blue. “It’s much brighter and fresher, but it was a bit scary choosing the blue,” admits Sarah.

Great British Life: The Appleby HubThe Appleby Hub

Some of the additional furniture that was needed came from the Furniture Warehouse, which is also part of Right2Work Group. Based in Kendal, it has been collecting unwanted furniture from homes and businesses across south Cumbria since 2011. With a focus on recycling, reusing and directing waste away from landfill, it upcycles and sells second-hand furniture and supports people with learning disabilities to work and learn.

The team at the Hub also upcycled some of the chairs in the expanded café. “The team got so good at painting and reupholstering chairs that I was worried some of them might leave to do that instead,” says Sarah.

A lean-to at the side of the building that was previously damp and largely unusable has been re-roofed and insulated so is now a functioning storage room for the kitchen and café with the addition of a mezzanine providing a space for storing props and other materials.

They have even managed to find enough space to build two new toilets next to the café, while the previous large toilet has been divided to provide a fourth WC. The construction work was carried out by Graeme Baldock, from Knock. “He even used scraps of leftover wood to make planters for our community garden,” says Sarah. “A lot of love has gone into this building.”

Great British Life: Head chef Patrizia Scarpa-Davies with Luke RodgersHead chef Patrizia Scarpa-Davies with Luke Rodgers (Image: Sheena Alcock)

The biggest change for the staff has been the reallocation of space to double the size of the kitchen. Head chef Patrizia Scarpa-Davies leads the team producing innovative wholefood dishes, salad bowls, mezze and antipasti platters, a full range of breakfast options as well as bread, scones and cakes.

Two more staff have been recruited. The Hub is a registered day service for people with learning disabilities and the café plays a critical role in providing work placements for learning disabled adults who serve tables and help in the kitchen. They close on Mondays and Tuesdays to provide training days for the learners.

“It’s important routine for them and also provides some respite for families,” explains Sarah. “We give people a real work experience in which they learn work skills. They can gain their level two in food hygiene and we hope some will go on to paid employment, and we can accept people on placement who aren’t quite ready for employment.”

Great British Life: Jane Farkins, of Eden Workshops, with one of the upcycled pieces in the shopJane Farkins, of Eden Workshops, with one of the upcycled pieces in the shop (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Upstairs, there are two spaces dedicated to craft and community. Eden Workshops at Appleby Hub puts on regular courses in a range of arts and crafts, and course tutor Jane Farkins also runs a furniture upcycling project with items sold in the shop.

The Bennet room can be used for anything from yoga classes to meetings of the handbell ringers group, and a Marcus Rashford Holiday Activities and Food Programme continued through the summer while the work was carried out. Razzamataz children’s theatre group meets at the Hub, which also hosts Highlights touring theatre shows and was the venue for the mayoral inauguration, as well as being available for weddings, anniversaries and other occasions.

“Now with a bigger kitchen we can do more outside events and catering because we’ve got the space to have more people in there prepping and cooking,” says Sarah.

The team’s dedication extends to the garden at the front of the building which changes with the seasons and is used for growing herbs for the kitchen. In the summer it had a seaside theme, with the small shed, which was repurposed again after being a privy during a previous wartime theme, transformed into a beach hut. Deckchairs, a collection of coastal paraphernalia and even an old-style postcard photo board were all created attracting praise from the Royal Horticultural Society.

“When we took over the building we refurbished it but it was quite cursory because we didn’t know how popular the Hub would be,” Sarah explains. “Then two years ago we did some more work to it when we moved the café into the hall. It used to be in a corner of the shop and it was never the plan to move it but we did it during the pandemic for social distancing reasons.

Great British Life: Lunch at Appleby Hub Lunch at Appleby Hub (Image: Sheena Alcock)

“Then the café got so popular because of the amazing job Patrizia and her team do. The kitchen was struggling to manage and we were having to send people away because we were so busy.

“When we had to close to do the work this time we were worried that people might have forgotten us so we’re very happy to see our regular customers coming back, and more visitors finding us. I even had someone phone from Leeds checking to make sure we take dogs before they travelled up – we do, by the way.

“I would like to thank the board members of Oaklea Trust and Right2Work for providing the funds for us to do the work. It helps us meet current demand but has also future proofed the building for years to come.”

Appleby Hub is open Wednesday-Saturday from 10am-3pm