The History of BRIC

In 1982 Blyth & District Trades Council (the local T.U.C.) was becoming concerned at the rising unemployment in the area. Delegates pointed out that many who became unemployed had left their unions when they lost their jobs. This meant that they had no representation and no one to look after their interests. No where they could go for advice in preparing for different work or what benefits they were entitled to.

A committee was formed to examine the problem and suggest some practical way in which we, as a trades council, could help. Newcastle Trades Council had already set up a centre for the unemployed near the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle. Contact was made with them and it was decided that something similar should be set up in Blyth. We next got in touch with Community Volunteer Service (since renamed CVA - Community and Voluntary Action Blyth Valley) for assistance. The Manpower Services Commission and Blyth Valley Council were also approached for help. The CVS kindly offered us rooms in their premises at 10, Union Street, and by December 1982 we had appointed a Centre Manager (Mike Philips, of Whitley Bay). Mike set about furnishing and staffing the centre and advertising for a Welfare Rights Worker and an Education Worker at the Job Centre. The Welfare Rights Worker (Terry McPartlan) started in March, 1983, and the same day the first centre user came in to get advice on an industrial matter.

An Education Worker, Joan Smith, was appointed in June and the same month saw the centre move to the Bowes Street premises above Crowe & Atkinson’s butcher’s shop. Alternative accommodation was needed as the Union Street premises needed a fire escape fitting to comply with fire regulations, and the cost of this was the main reason for the move. The Bowes Street premises were much more suited for the work of the centre as well. A Centre user, Richard Gebbie offered to help and provide cookery courses.

Then, as indeed now, funding the centre was a major problem. And, speaking of problems, the Centre Manager broke his ankle in an accident at home and Terry had to do both jobs until Mike got out of hospital. As an early attempt at fund raising, a social evening was held at the Buffalo Centre and made £50 with a further donation of £30 from the local Labour Party made a good start. A ‘Rock for Jobs’ concert was held in the old Drill Hall on the Quayside and this provided further funds. It also provided the centre with another helper, Kenny Potter, one of the musician’s, who was willing to provide music training, and help out generally at the centre. Not having charitable status meant having to use the C.V.S. as an intermediary in respect of grants.

The centre officially opened in October 1983. The following year saw the start of computer courses using a BBC ‘B’ computer, and a darkroom was set up in the centre to run courses in photography. A public service announcement was made on Tyne Tees Television, which helped attract more people to the centre and also gifts of equipment from the public. The centre decided to change its name to Blyth Resource and Initiative Centre and a logo was designed showing the main industries of Blyth.

By 1989 the centre had gained charitable status and in March that year the local Council raised their level of funding to BRIC from £6,690 to £26,890 to enable the appointment of a full-time manager on an appropriate local authority salary grade, to be supported by a part-time administrator and sessional workers. In order to allow time to introduce the new structure and also to ease the financial burden on the Council, the funding was initially for 9 months only, starting from 1 July 1989, thus making the grant for 1989-90 £20,170. The grant was also to cover accommodation and running costs.

In 1996, BRIC moved from its original site into the Eric Tolhurst Centre which has since become home to other voluntary sector organisations including Citizens Advice Bureau, Cease 24, Bliss Meditation, Credit Union and the Blyth Valley Disabled Forum. BRIC is very different today compared to the project established in 1983 – having grown in size, profile and community involvement to become a busy, well used and valued community resource. It has since provided training and education to over 10,000 people from South East Northumberland.