BUILT in 1776 as family residence of Joseph Maude, Stricklandgate House has worn many guises over the years.

It was one of Kendal’s first banks, a museum, a doctor’s surgery and the main offices of the South Westmorland Rural District Council (later SLDC).

Despite being slap bang in the centre of Kendal, it seems that not many people really know what goes on inside, though many stop to admire the impressive Georgian architecture.

But The Stricklandgate House Trust has been up and running in the building for two decades, with the purpose of providing and managing a Centre for Voluntary Organisations.

And public attendance is in fact intensive, with 14,000 visits recorded during 2013.

Serving the community in a whole host of ways, there are 17 charities currently based there.

Among the groups that have been in residence from the outset are Cumbria CVS, Sight Advice South Lakes, SLSB Enterprises and South Cumbria Dyslexia Association.

The charities cover a huge range of services and there is a real sense that this is somewhere anyone can turn to.

Colin Reynolds, trustee and former chairman, said: “The philosophy was that the charities could come together and help each other.”

The trust itself is responsible for the operation and administration of Stricklandgate House and accommodation and services within are charged at cost and not for profit.

And, for the first time in 20 years, the trust has broken even.

Mr Reynolds said: “Our belief is that the longstanding benefits to our tenants is the central and accessible accommodation shared with like-minded voluntary organisations.

“We also understand that many of the clients of the respective voluntary organisations appreciate the anonymity of visiting Strick- landgate House.”

He added that the centre in Kendal had remained ‘unique internationally’ and over the last few years had been emulated by similar ventures in North Shields and Bolton.

Charlotte Robinson is a project manager for The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), which helps people get into environmental volunteering and back into the workplace.

She said: “Being part of Stricklandgate House is very beneficial and working next to many other organisations means we can refer people to them, and others to us.”

Ms Robinson runs the Community Learning in Partnership (CLIP) project, which encourages 16-25 year olds to volunteer 50 hours of their time in relevant and interesting positions.

“It’s all about improving confidence and employability and getting involved in the community,” she added.

Across the corridor from TCV is mental health charity South Lakeland Mind, which operates all over the South Lakes and deals with about 300 clients each year.

Catherine Gordon, of the charity, said: “We all have the same aims as each other and we just love working alongside other charities.

“In a dire economy, it’s a really great space to work in, and the atmosphere is perfect.”

She added that they had three core services that were available to anyone with a mental health issue.

These are counselling, befriending, and drop-in sessions – each seeking to provide social support and improve the well-being of those experiencing mental or emotional distress.

In residence as long as the trust itself is sight loss charity Sight Advice South Lakes, which gives visually impaired people the chance to lead an independent life.

Director Mark Griffiths said: “The whole idea is to be as independent as possible. We have an eye loss clinic at Westmorland General Hospital, which is important as we meet people at the point of diagnosis, so we can pick them up straight away.”

He added that they also use the building as a hub for activity, social and advice groups, as well as showcasing a range of products that can be purchased to help make life easier for visually impaired people.

Stricklandgate House itself employs a small staff, some of whom have also been there from the beginning.

Volunteer Ellena Williamson said: “I started as a receptionist six months after it opened and started managing when the manager was away. I’ve been retired for years, but I really and truly love working here.”

The plan for The Stricklandgate House Trust for now, Mr Reynolds said, was ‘primarily to survive’.

He added: “The only thing I get out of being a trustee is satisfaction, and we want to go on serving the needs of the voluntary organisations.

“The offices have been full since we opened and I think that’s the most resounding evidence that the job that we do is needed.”