COMMUNITY champion Anne Keen has retired, happy in the knowledge that Newton-le-Willows Community Centre is thriving.

Looking back on her 23 years of involvement there, former centre co-ordinator Anne revealed she knew it was a special place from the first day she stepped inside for her interview.

“The pride and passion the management committee felt for the centre was evident. It has remained ever since.

“I honestly believe that, along with their values and principles, it’s in the fabric of the building,” said Anne.

“After the interview I was introduced to numerous volunteers. Yet again the sense of pride was apparent.

“I walked away with a smile on my face, as I had never really encountered such deep feelings about a place before.”

She decided she wanted to be a part of it, got the job and the rest is history.

As centre co-ordinator, she received unstinting support from the management committee, manager Rita Ward and volunteers.

As the centre evolved, it gained a reputation throughout St Helens for being the epitome of good practice and community engagement.

Challenges have also been overcome. The year 2010 was difficult and the centre nearly closed because of funding issues.

Anne recalled: “Volunteers and staff were adamant that we would not close and maintained a high morale. Centre users, tutors, groups and individuals raised £4,000 in months. Their support spoke volumes.

“Six months later my Big Lottery Fund funding application was successful.”

Full of praise for the dedication shown by volunteers – “we couldn’t open evenings or weekends without them” – and the small team of paid staff, Anne believes they and the centre are something special.

“The centre is like one big family. A real community spirit pervades. I am so lucky to have played a small role in something so big,” she said proudly.

“A big thank you is due to each and everyone I have had the pleasure of working with and knowing over the past 23 years. It’s been a privilege.”

At her retirement ceremony, the Mayor of St Helens Cllr Andy Bowden praised Anne and those involved with the centre.

Now Anne is enjoying retirement at the family home in Rainhill.

The mother-of-two hopes to spend more time with her 10-month-old grandson Oliver, and concentrate on the online crystals and gift business that she runs with her husband Mark.