The end of an era

Author: Anne Webster

Following the sale of Mea House, VONNE will be moving offices soon. Sadly, this means that our Mea House Coordination and Development Support Officer, Anne Webster will be leaving VONNE at the end of March 2024. Anne has written a blog reflecting on her time and role within both VONNE and Mea House. 

Mea House was set up in the early 1970s as a purpose-built office building to provide high quality, fully accessible office accommodation at competitive rents, below market rate, to the voluntary sector. It is managed by The Mea Trust who are a registered charity and the building became a Grade 2 listed in 2015 on the recommendation of English Heritage.

I came into post as Co-ordination and Development Support Officer in early 2020 with the aim of building a community hub within Mea House. The building was home to 26 Voluntary and Community organisations all doing sterling work to support their beneficiaries, and the Mea Trust believed there was an opportunity to build a charity hub within the building for the voluntary and community sector in the North East. I spent my first few weeks in a flurry of activity, meeting organisations and finding out what they wanted to see in the building. Then along came Covid-19, and plans were abruptly paused as we all started working from home. 

Fast forward 12 months and I started to organise meetings on Zoom to provide support as people came back to work after being furloughed. Gradually, as social distancing restrictions were lifted, we were able to start building a community by holding in person opportunities to meet up and share ideas and suggestions about working together. 

I started to organise training for Mea House tenants, covering universally beneficial topics including First Aid at Work and an Introduction to Sign Language. I also sent out regular newsletters and developed social media platforms in order to keep members of the community informed about relevant funding and events. 

By the summer, I was coordinating and hosting joint events to encourage collaboration and open up Mea House to those across the wider North East VCSE sector. A celebratory Volunteers Event became an annual event, held in partnership with Volunteer Centre Newcastle, a Mea House tenant. During my time in this role, I’ve seen tenants come together to undertake joint projects and refer their beneficiaries to other organisations or groups within Mea House for additional support, which has been fantastic. 

As a community, Mea House tenants came together to support the Love, Amelia Christmas appeal which provides gifts to families and children across Tyne & Wear and County Durham who are going without at Christmas. 4 boxes of toiletries, games and gifts were donated from the MEA House community. We also celebrated the contribution of our wonderful receptionist Susan, who retired after over 30 years of working at Mea House. We had a lovely get together with a buffet provided by the learners from PRS café, one of the organisations based at Mea House, and Susan was presented with flowers, chocolates, gift vouchers and her favourite gin from organisations within Mea House!

I also initiated an Eco-council where a small but very enthusiastic group of individuals quickly worked together to agree small steps towards making the building more eco-friendly by reducing its carbon footprint and we had some great outcomes:

  • Recycling bins in the kitchens and meeting rooms
  • Switch off campaign – encouraging people to switch off the lights in kitchens and bathrooms when not in use
  • Regular litter picks on the green space outside of Mea House
  • Eco-friendly cleaning products being used in the building
  • Used battery collection point
  • Toner and printer cartridge recycling
  • Liaising with our local councillor to improve the green space outside the building

Looking back over the past 3 years, I’m most proud of the way the community came together to fundraise for a public access automated external defibrillator (AED) which remains in place outside of Mea House. The fundraising for the AED really brought the community together with people pitching in to make cakes and donate raffle and tombola prizes.

Unfortunately, after lots of careful deliberation and professional advice, The Mea Trust, made the difficult decision to sell Mea House as it could not afford to keep up the maintenance of the building. Northumbria University has purchased the building and will take ownership in July 2024, to gain much-needed additional space on its campus and will undertake a multi-million-pound refurbishment of the building to bring it up to expected modern standards.

The voluntary and community organisations at Mea House have all found new homes with many of them relocating to nearby Hadrian House, where hopefully they will continue to support one another and champion the voluntary and community sector in the North East.

The sale of Mea House means that my development and coordination role can’t continue, and I’ll be made redundant at the end of March. I'm looking at it as an opportunity to retire (albeit a little earlier than I anticipated!) and I’ll be spending more time on my garden, going out walking, visiting family and friends, seeing lots of live music and eating and drinking far too much! It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with so many like-minded organisations championing the importance of the VCSE sector. 

The team at VONNE are fantastic and I’m thankful to have worked with such an amazing and passionate team. I’m sure that VONNE will go from strength to strength promoting the importance of the sector, raising the profile of VCSE organisations and working together to build a strong voice for the sector.