The facilities and services offered by VAR today could not have been anticipated by the volunteers who set up The Rutland Volunteer Bureau in 1984 in a small shared rented office in Gaol Street Oakham.
The Rutland Volunteer Bureau (RVB) was set up in 1984 and run by volunteers with a £300 p.a. grant from Leicestershire Health Authority and Leicestershire County Council Social Services to cover running costs. At that time it shared a small rented office with the Red Cross office in Gaol Street, Oakham.
In 1986 the RVB moved to two roomed accommodation in the Oakham Community Centre.
Because of the RVB's success, in 1986 the Management Committee successfully bid for funding to appoint another part-time (18 hours) Coordinator, Kathy Braddock, and a part-time (15 hours) Administrative Officer, Moyra Collins.
In 1988, a delegation from the Home Office visited Rutland to see a rural Volunteer Bureau in action and mentioned RVB favourably in its report to Parliament with regard to its effectiveness in providing much needed services in a rural area.
In 1989, Jean Harbot resigned and Kathy Braddock was appointed RVB’s first full-time Coordinator.
In 1993, the RVB successfully sought approval and funding to create a Council for Voluntary Service. Both organisations would work together under the name of Voluntary Action Rutland (VAR). Kathy Braddock took over the new Council for Voluntary Service post of Development Officer. She was joined by Liz Tagg as Volunteer and Transport Manager and Linda Baines as a second Administrative Officer. The Transport Scheme had expanded to over 4,800 journeys.
In 1994, VAR became a Company Limited by Guarantee. It was deregistered in 2000.
VAR submitted an unsuccessful bid to the National Lottery in 1996, in the category of ‘Health, Disability and Care’. A successful bid was made in 1997 to the National Lottery Fund for £197,500, in the ‘Voluntary Sector’ category, to purchase and renovate the Stable Block behind Rutland College to create the Rutland Volunteer Centre.
VAR moved into its new premises together with Advance Housing, Age Concern and the Play Forum. Additional organisations and groups then began to use the premises and a part-time Rutland Volunteer Centre administrator was appointed. The garages at the rear of the building were also leased to the Centre.
In 1999, VAR submitted a successful bid to Lloyds TSB for the funding of a Community Resource Centre Room in Rutland Volunteer Centre, which would be equipped with computers and a library to support community activities in the county.
In 1999, new boilers and refreshment facilities were installed and the Territorial Army renovated the Centre's car park.
On 15 April 1999, HRH The Princess Royal formally opened the Rutland Volunteer Centre.
In 1999 VAR decided to transfer the ownership of the Rutland Volunteer Centre to the Charity Commission.
By 2000, VAR was involved in many Rutland County Council Forums and Partnerships (Mental Health, Environmental, Learning Disabilities, Youth, Older Persons Services, Crime and Disorder, The Welland Partnership, Child Behaviour Initiative, Lifelong Learning, Children and Joint Planning).
A 'best value' review of VAR, requested by Rutland County Council, was carried out in 2000 by the independent consultant Nik James. It concluded that VAR was very good value for money and recommended a £17,000 injection of funding.
Also in 2000 VAR began planning the Garage Development Project: the demolition of old garages at the rear of the Centre and the construction of a new building to house a wide range of community organisations focused on the needs of the vulnerable and elderly. Plans included a day care centre and treatment room for older, disabled and vulnerable people, disabled toilets and bathroom facilities, a drop-in centre for socially isolated people, therapeutic workshops including IT facilities and community meeting rooms.
In 2001, Rutland County Council agreed to deed the garage land to VAR if capital could be found to develop the site. Local architect Karen Mellor agreed to draw up plans. VAR launched an appeal in order to fund the project. Dr Laurence Howard OBE JP, the Lord Lieutenant of Rutland, agreed to be the appeal’s Patron.
In 2003, Kathy Braddock was appointed Director with Chris Redman as Deputy Director.
VAR continued to become successfully involved in new Government initiatives, including Local Area Agreements and the ‘Change Up’ initiative and to work with Social Services, Health and Children’s services for the benefit of socially excluded people in Rutland.
In October 2006, Kathy Braddock stepped down as Director and her post was taken up by Lindsay Henshaw-Dann.
Work began in 2006 on the ‘Garage Development Project’ with the demolition of the garages. Rutland County Council transferred the lease of land and Rutland Agricultural Society transferred an additional piece of land on lease. Raising funds to support the extension project became an increasingly important part of VAR’s activities. Building work began in January 2007 and was completed in 2008. The Gover Centre was formally opened by HRH The Princess Royal in May 2009.
Activity at the centre has continued to increase as more and more services are provided, including counselling, family mediation and support groups for people with disabilities. Demand is such that rooms have had to be subdivided to create more space. The number of visitors and services provided has grown at a phenomenal rate.