Express & Star

How Black Country bingo hall became a community centre to help during Covid-19

A Black Country bingo hall has helped to improve the lives of hundreds of people during the coronavirus pandemic by engaging with charities from across the region.

Ranjit Choongh and Paul Hornigold from Mecca with some of the food packs they have been giving out

Mecca Bingo Wednesbury was forced, like many other businesses, to close in March 2020 due to the pandemic and co-manager Ranjit Choongh said the charity work began soon after as a way of using the facilities of the hall.

He said: "It's been a wonderful opportunity to help the community and Covid-19 has taught us all that we need to help each other.

"We started as soon as the lockdown started and began ramping it up as we went along, taking up every opportunity we've had to help and get involved in community work.

"We also gone out and looked for ways to help and I also contacted pretty much every councillor in Wednesbury and the surrounding boroughs and built a relationship with them.

"I also contacted Mandy Williams, who is the public health development officer for Wednesbury, and said he had this big building with a car park, tea and coffee, toilet facilities and a kitchen and offered our help."

The hall has acted as a community hub throughout the pandemic, providing hot meals and packed lunches to charities and schools such as Priory Primary School, Open Heaven Pantry, Friends of Di’s Kitchen, Ettingshall Food Pantry and the Haven.

It has also opened its facilities to Ideal for All, which supports disabled people through integrated health and wellbeing and speciality employment support and Knights of Wednesbury, who provide a service for elderly people to come together.

Mr Choongh said the pandemic had meant the hall had had to adapt and innovate to ensure it could be viable in the future and also make use of its assets during a turbulent time.

He said: "People in the business world have the analogy of sweating the asset, which means maximising footfall and profit per square metre and every hour.

"We tilted it on its head as we couldn't operate in the normal way, and decided to sweat the asset in a different way and see what we can do to give back to our local community instead.

"The club is community focussed anyway, and we feel it's better to light one candle than curse the darkness and utilise our time and facilities to help those who most need help."

Mr Choongh also said the aim was to continue providing a service to the community and charities once restrictions are lifted and the hall is able to reopen on May 17.

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