AS the name suggests, Open Door in Gorse Hill has been a vital lifeline for a number of adults living with learning difficulties to socialise in the community for the last 30 years.

Based at St Barnabas Church, Open Door has continued to provide a range of activities in a safe, supportive and non-judgmental environment to help people with learning difficulties develop independence.

From day trips to holidays, over 100 members are on the roll at the centre which first opened its doors in 1985 and many visit on a daily basis for a cuppa, catch-up or meal.

Now, the team have been awarded a £5,174 grant from the Swindon Charity Ball towards a new commercial cooker to help speed along lunchtimes.

Deputy manager Pat Winning, 63 has been involved with Open Door for the last 26 years and was thrilled to hear that the charity had been successful in getting the grant.

“We are so grateful for the money because we use this building from the church who put the initial cooker in but when you are cooking lunches for 40 members in a domestic oven, it is like making a massive Christmas dinner for everyone,” she said.

“Working here is the best job in the world and the members say it is like their extended family.

“If Open Door didn’t provide this support, it would cost society twice as much because we know what would happen to our members in not having the confidence to go out.”

The kitchen team rustle up over 40 two-course healthy and hearty lunches each day, providing over 5,000 in total last year.

Members also contribute to what is on offer on the menu with many picking out their own fruit and vegetables from an allotment plot.

Head cook Kathleen Wright got involved with Open Door as a volunteer and soon worked her way up the ranks to take over running the kitchen - a move she has never looked back on.

“The money is going to give me a lot more opportunity to cook different meals and cook more efficiently for the members,” the 37-year-old said.

“As well as cooking the meals, part of my job is to get the members through personal development plans when they come into the kitchen. It could be anything from learning how to count to learning how to grate or cut things – every little helps.

“When you walk into Open Door you leave with a completely different outlook from when you walked in – it is a safe haven for people with disabilities and learning difficulties.”

Over the years, Open Door has become a lot more than just a drop-in day centre for members.

It has become a place for them to socialise with a range of people and partake in arts and crafts. Kim, 51 has been coming to Open Door for over a decade and even met her partner David at the centre.

“Open Door is the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said. “My life was horrible before. “I had mental health issues many years ago and a lady recommended that I come to Open Door.

“I was shy at first but coming here has made me be able to go off and do things on my own.”

The team hope to buy the new cooker in the next couple of months.