Her Star Tree Studio now has a smart new base in Hare Hill Park, Rochdale, and has already proved a big hit with residents.
The Studio provides a wide range of much needed activities including play sessions for young children, art classes for older children and adults, after school clubs and much more.
The project was supported by an £11,000 grant from Rochdale Borough Council’s Pennines Township Committee, used to get the building ready for the renovations, covering survey costs, internal demolition, removal of old timber joists as well as installation of a new floor, internal walls and toilets.
Originally based in smaller premises on Victoria Street, Neela’s Star Tree Studio was getting very busy and ready to expand, so after hearing the council were looking for a new venture that would complement Hare Hill Park to take over a barn in the grounds, named Gig House, she stepped forward and eventually picked up the keys in May 2020, just as Covid struck.
Speaking to I LOVE MCR, Neela, a former art and design lecturer at Tameside College, said: “It was a challenge opening during Covid.
“I’ve done what I set out to do, but it took a long time and there were moments when I thought it would never be finished.
“Since the doors opened and we’ve been getting public feedback and seeing so many children, families and adults engaged in the activities it makes me proud that we’ve done it and to see how the space is bringing people together again after a very difficult couple of years, so in a way the timing couldn’t have been better.”
The colourful studio is packed with materials and equipment for painting, sculpting, decopatch, collage and more, and is delivering a wide range of activities including arts and craft classes, youth sessions, classes for babies and pre-schoolers, drop-ins for 0-5 year olds as well as birthday parties, a popular after school club and first aid courses.
There’s a sensory room for babies and younger children too.
Other organisations using the space include Rochdale Youth Service, Littleborough Arts Society and Littleborough & Areas Ladies Circle and other local groups also use it for activities and meetings.
Looking towards the new year, Neela is hoping to further expand the offer at Star Tree Studio and plans to get insulation installed into the roof.
Living in Littleborough means no commute too: “Working near where I live is really rewarding, I’ve always wanted to be able to put something back into the community and I’m excited about where this adventure is going to go next.”
Councillor Sue Smith, cabinet member for communities and co-operation, called in to visit to see the results for herself and congratulate Neela.
She said: “I was so impressed, what a superb job.
“The studio is such a bright and welcoming place and it is clear how much hard work has gone in and what an impact the studio is having on the local community every day.
“I see the passion Neela has, and this is another example of council funding helping to deliver real benefits and making things happen, creating a real local asset.”
As well as the council, the project was also financially supported by the Co-op Foundation and the Crook Hill Community Benefit Fund.