Whitley Bay Big Local: helping to bring a community together

“I dropped in one day for a coffee and a chat, and I kept coming back. Everyone is looking forward to the refurbishment. It means the centre can grow, which will help the people to grow.”

Social Problem

Seaside towns are often designed around tourists. It can be difficult for residents to find affordable spaces where they can meet new people and socialise with friends.


Whitley Bay Big Local opened a community building in the town back in 2014. It’s moved home a couple of times since then but has now settled in a building best known as the former job centre. A wide range of weekly activities are held at the building, including knit & natter, coffee mornings, family drop-in afternoons, craft sessions, a mental health support group and a youth drama club. The hub is also home to a ‘pay as you can pantry’, which helps to tackle local food poverty and reduce food waste.


Whitley Bay Big Local moved to its latest home with a view to buying and refurbishing it. The charity was able to raise enough money to cover the purchase, but not enough for the renovation. As CEO David Carnaffan explains, “Without refurbishment, the building wouldn’t be able to cover its costs. We would have ended up with a building, but it wouldn't have been a sustainable asset; it would have been a liability.”

Whitley Bay Big Local approached several lenders for a loan to cover the shortfall. Commercial lenders felt the project was too high risk. Social investors were prepared to lend the money, but only over a 10-year period, which would have made the repayments too high for the charity to afford.

Charity Bank agreed to loan Whitley Bay Big Local the money it needed, over a 25-year period. The repayments are £2,000 a month less than the charity would have been paying in rent.

“The conversations with Charity Bank were immediately very positive. I’d started conversations with other lenders that didn’t go very far, so it was a huge relief to talk to someone who thought a loan was doable. It was a very positive experience, and everything seemed possible with Charity Bank. As a specialist lender to the charity sector, Charity Bank scored lower on our risk register than a purely commercial organisation. We felt there would be more understanding and flexibility if something went wrong.”

David Carnaffan, CEO of Whitley Bay Big Local


Whitley Bay Big Local is planning an ambitious renovation project. Not only is it rearranging the interior layout, but it’s also replacing the structurally unsound roof, planning a new cycle hub to generate more income and transforming the old job centre into a community eco hub. The work should double the centre’s usable space, allowing it to host more events.

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“The centre happens to be at the end of my street, so I dropped in one day for a coffee and a chat, and then I just kept coming back. There’s a lot of different things going on that you can try – sewing, crafts, colouring, planting bulbs for the community garden. It takes your mind off your anxieties.”

“I've made some nice friends. We can chat about things in a safe environment. We've been doing a mandala with a group from Barnados, and I’ve learnt how to watercolour. I'm 73 next week, and I'm learning new things all the time. Whereas if I was sat in the house, I wouldn't be learning anything new. Everyone is so happy to have got the loan and is looking forward to the refurbishment. It means the centre can grow, which will help the people to grow.”

Carol, a regular at Whitley Bay Big Local

About Charity Bank

Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1,100 loans totalling over £400m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.

Find out more about us here.

Nothing in this article constitutes an invitation to engage in investment activity nor is it advice or a recommendation and professional advice should be taken before any course of action is pursued.