Peepul Centre epitomises the importance of community hubs during Covid

The Peepul Centre social enterprise based in Belgrave, Leicester, has been through a great deal of change during the Covid-19 pandemic, with social restrictions resulting in many of its facilities having to temporarily close.

However, true to its tenets of being unique, inspired and versatile in all that it does, the organisation did not fully close along with its facilities. Instead, it pivoted to help the community in a different way: by providing a free meal service to struggling families in the early weeks of the pandemic.

This year, it has not only been continuing with the free meal scheme, but it has built on that work by offering part of its facilities to be used as an NHS vaccination centre as a means of continuing to help the most vulnerable by driving the UK vaccination programme forward.

Looking back on the work that the Peepul Centre has carried out over the last year, chair Anil Bhanot said: “Converting our facilities into a vaccination centre felt like the right thing to do as a natural next step to help the community.

“We have run the free food project throughout the last year out of our restaurant and bar, which was forced to close for public use early on in the pandemic. People have been able to come in and collect the food parcels, as well as members of our staff going out and delivering them. As successful as this has been, we wanted to build on that and offer even more.”

The vaccination centre based at the Peepul Centre has proven a great success. As of May 14, it is estimated that 85,000 people have come forward to receive their jabs at the site, and health workers who have been administering vaccines there have heaped praise on the centre’s senior leadership for their support during the programme.

Staggeringly, the vaccination centre is one of a number of new developments at the Peepul Centre since the health crisis started, as Bhanot explained.

He said: “Apart from the vaccination centre and food project, we have also launched a Peepul Centre Health Department during the crisis, which originated as an idea for Mental Health Awareness Week. “It offers a hub where people can come and discuss mental and physical health issues, as well as running a number of remote and live sessions.”

The new Peepul Centre Health Department run out of the newly refurbished gym facilities at the centre. Eventually, it will provide both remote and in-person seminars, live remote workouts, nutritional guidance, and advice plus supporting a mental health advice hub, operated in a Covid-secure way.

The centre is also offering itself out as a childcare hub, boasting a 94-child capacity nursery on site, which customarily hosts zero-to-five-year-olds as well as children as old as eight during school holidays.

Despite all this new headway, the Peepul Centre has also strived to remain true to its roots. Pre-Covid, one of the central purposes of the centre was to act as an arts hub, which was put on hold by the health crisis.

However, while the public have been unable to frequent the facility to engage in arts-related activities, it has been building partnerships with as many local organisations as possible to guarantee an exceptional community offering once social restrictions are lifted.

Jiten Anand from Inspirate, a local creative learning organisation that has agreed to work with the Peepul Centre, commented: “We are delighted to be working with the Peepul Centre on a new project which will help develop the centre and expand its arts offering.

“I live in Belgrave and have seen the Peepul Centre grow from strength to strength over the years. I see this as an opportunity to develop it further for the community, not just for South Asian audiences but for people from all over the country. There is an immense amount of opportunity here and we want to create even more.”

Bhanot added that the Peepul Centre’s engagement with local bodies was critical to ensuring that it will be able to hit the ground running with the resumption of its services post-Covid.

“During the pandemic we have kept ourselves busy. We have started laying groundwork for the post-Covid world now, and when the pandemic ends, we will concentrate more on developing performing arts in our area and beyond.

“Through local and wider partnerships with local organisations and several more in London, we have a bright future indeed.”


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