Community centre helps Dawn’s realise her dream

Dawn Gzella at St Swithun's Community Centre.
Dawn Gzella at St Swithun's Community Centre.

Dawn Gzella always dreamed of being a nutritionist.

But after leaving school with no qualifications, she found herself working in a call centre and her aspirations in tatters.

The mum-of-two decided to volunteer at St Swithun’s Community Centre in Eastmoor, where she organised activity days for children.

That’s when she found out about the centre’s adult education courses.

Within five years of taking the course, Miss Gzella went to college, graduated from university and got a job as a nutritionist at St Swithun’s.

Now she is encouraging others wanting to change their lives to visit the centre.

Miss Gzella, 42, of Arncliffe Road, said: “My message would be just to give it a go.

“It can be quite daunting but it is a great opportunity and can open a lot of doors.

“The centre has always been for people in the community and continues to be a big part in the area.”

Miss Gzella first visited St Swithun’s when she took her two children, Connor and Joshua, to its nursery.

She joined the centre as a volunteer in 2008 and worked during the evenings providing technical support for SKY broadband customers.

Miss Gzella helped out with the St Swithun’s Get Eastmoor Moving project, which provides activities for children aged six to 11.

After learning about her ambitions, volunteers at the centre encouraged her to take up the adult education Maths and English courses.

Within five months she achieved her level two, which meant she could go on to study an access course at Wakefield College.

After completing the course Miss Gzella studied public health nutrition at Leeds Metropolitan University in 2010.

She said: “That was daunting because I was going there thinking there was going to be lots of 20-year-olds.

“But to my surprise there was quite a few older people and we all mixed really well. Age was not a factor.”

Miss Gzella graduated three years later and was appointed food and health development worker at St Swithun’s in December 2013.

She said: “It all started with the Maths and English courses. You work at your own pace and it does not matter how long it takes.

“It opened up more opportunities for me and now I am doing what I always wanted.”

The healthy eating programme, funded by the Public Health Trust, has been running for 13 months and caters for four groups a week.

It teaches people with special needs and young families how to cook healthy meals on a budget.

The project also designed the menu for the centre’s in-house cafe, which provides healthy meals for its visitors.

Miss Gzella said: “People are aware how the food they eat can affect their health but a growing problem is people have not got the right skills.

“They can go into a supermarket and it is so easy to buy a big pizza for £1.

“We help give them the confidence to cook a healthy meal on a budget. It has been quite successful and we hope it continues.”

Miss Gzella said the project is looking to expand and run courses for people with diabetes and autism.

St Swithun’s not only provides adult education and healthy eating classes, it is also a place where people go just for a chat and a cup of tea.

Built where St Swithun’s Church used to stand, the centre was the brainchild of a small group of people who wanted to improve opportunities for young people in their community.

It runs a host of other projects including karate classes, health walks and a job club.

Olivia Rowley, Wakefield Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “The centre offers a lot for the community and helps families do well. Whether it be slimming classes or adult education schemes, there are lots of opportunities.

“Dawn is a prime example and she has gone on to bigger and better things.”

For more information, contact the centre on 01924 361212.