Every Friday night during term time, St Andrews Methodist Church in Penistone comes alive with the sound of laughter.
There’s singing on the karaoke, cheering on the players of a video game tournament, and the odd shout of BINGO! All wrapped up in giggles and glee.
For St Andrews Church is the home of Penistone Gateway Club; a social club for people with learning or physical disabilities to come together, make friends, learn new skills and, most importantly, have fun.
The club has been going for almost 40 years and, in that time, has become a salvation for people with complex or special educational needs – particularly in a time when adult social care funding has been cut and day centres closed.
But thanks to £10,000 lottery funding, the club can continue to develop and enhance its service to help safeguard its future for the next 40 years.
Penistone Gateway Club was launched in 1981 by members of Barnsley Mencap with a view to providing a safe place for people in the Penistone area with learning disabilities to break free from loneliness and isolation.
Run by a team of 14 volunteers, including Jean Copping who attended the very first meeting and is still involved today, many of Penistone Gateway’s volunteers are long-standing, helping at the club for at least 15 years.
They currently support members aged 18 to 50 with a range of additional needs, some of whom have been coming regularly since 2005.
Running in-line with the school term, the volunteers organise a varied programme across the year, with different activities each week that are aimed at improving confidence and self-belief.
From team games such as a beetle drive, to baking sweet treats; karaoke nights with disco dancing, to the popular Nintendo Wii bowling tournament – all activities are based around social interaction and friendship.
After reading about fellow disability organisation, Artworks, in Aroundtown back in 2018, they also work with Kayleigh and the team to host regular creative arts sessions.
The volunteers also plan trips and excursions outside of the weekly club, visiting the likes of Blackpool Zoo, Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Disney on Ice. They also look forward to seeing the pantomime at Penistone Paramount every January and a game of bowling for the end of year treat in July.
One of the club’s main aspirations is to challenge perceptions of people with disabilities by engaging with the local community.
Last year, members took part in various events in Penistone to raise awareness of the club and the fantastic work the volunteers do.
For the first time, they entered the Mayor’s Gala parade, working with the team at Artworks to transform their minibus into a Snow White themed float complete with giant poison apple. In the weeks leading up to the parade, they coloured in pictures and made a handprint tree to decorate the bus – and the hard work paid off as they came second place.
Later on in the year, the members also worked together to make a Guy Fawkes in his very own wheelchair which won first prize at the Penistone bonfire event.
They also had a bottle stall at Penistone Show which raised over £130 in donations as well as one new member and two new volunteers.
Local donations like this have helped keep the club going for as long as it has, with members’ nominal weekly subs of £5 also going towards running costs.
They are also heavily supported by Penistone Round Table who provide a minibus and fuel to pick up and drop off members from across Barnsley for each session.
But even with this, the club has been running at a loss for the past few years and equipment urgently needs updating.
The £10,000 lottery funding, which is part of the Preparing for Next Decade initiative, will cover the running costs for the next 18 months meaning any fundraising or donations can be used to build up reserves to ensure sustainability for the future.
It will also allow Penistone Gateway Club to invest in new laptops and tablets for members, buy a new games console to replace their old but very well-loved Wii, and restock their craft equipment and materials.