A charity dedicated to helping lonely, isolated and elderly people across Huddersfield has been saved from shutting … and also had a personal message from Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas just before its glittering 2023 final.

Aspire Creating Communities began in 2015 at St John’s Church in Birkby with groups aged over 55 meeting to foster a sense of community and belonging while doing fun activities. It’s expanded ever since to set up more weekly groups in Crosland Moor, Newsome, Dalton, Almondbury and Ashbrow.

Aspire is run by a team of five staff helped by 30 volunteers with more than 200 people now attending its meetings in their own areas. Many people rely on the charity as their only hope of getting out once a week.

But a story on Huddersfield Hub in November revealed it had run out of funding and needed £20,000 quickly or would have to close on New Year’s Eve.

The appeal showed the power of the media as a local trustee of the Cotton Industry War Memorial Trust which helps communities where there has been a cotton industry read the story and recommended Aspire applied for a community grant. Shortly after this Aspire was awarded £9,000.

Aspire also made successful applications for £10,000 from the West Yorkshire Mayor’s Warm Spaces Fund and virtually another £10,000 from the National Lottery Awards for All scheme.

Fundraising and other donations have brought in a further £10,000 so Aspire’s future is assured well into 2024.

Aspire Creating Communities chief executive and founder Susanna Shotter said: “We are so relieved and are in a much better position now, ready to take Aspire forward again next year.”

Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas said: “The seven Aspire groups across Huddersfield are very special and you’ve created huge, long-lasting friendships. I think the work you’re doing is absolutely fantastic.

“Many of you in the groups are Strictly fans so on behalf of all the judges and myself I want to say a huge thank you for tuning in week in and week out. We couldn’t have a show without you.”

Susanna said: “When a lady who attends one of our groups saw the video message she burst into tears as she’s such a big Strictly fan.

“It’s such a heartwarming, positive way to end the year and we are really excited about the future once again and hopeful of a lot of new partnerships, including running an intergenerational project with schools and linking up with the University of Huddersfield’s Business School.”

Susanna praised the charity’s dedicated volunteers who rallied round and went the extra mile when it was feared Aspire would have to close.

“I can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done,” she said. “We’ve had to be very resourceful. The local community has also been so supportive too – it’s been very moving.”

But she warned: “Aspire is not alone and many charities are really struggling at the moment with funding harder and harder to get.”

People wanting to help raise money for Aspire are urged to download the Aspire Creating Communities supporter toolkit for ideas to start fundraising here https://www.aspirecreatingcommunities.org.uk/support-aspire

Supporters can also donate via the Aspire Creating Communities JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/aspirecreatingcommunities

Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.