Tributes have been paid to a “star” who was at the “heart” of an Aberdeen community centre, after she lost her fight with cancer.
Community stalwart Wilma Mackland passed away at the age of 67 after battling kidney and lung cancer.
The development manager at Sunnybank Community Centre, who died on Sunday, worked tirelessly to keep the centre afloat.
With Wilma at its helm, the centre thrived, and it opened its doors to thousands in the wider community and further afield.
Her husband, John Mackland, 64, who works as a janitor at Kittybrewster School and St Machar Academy has spoken about the impact Wilma had on himself and the people of Aberdeen.
The couple from Northfield, who met in their teens at The Moorings, were married for 45 years and had two sons, Neil, 47, and Stephen, 42.
John, who is known as John “the janitor” to colleagues and school pupils, said: “When we met, she said I have lovely blue eyes but no sense of clothes, but she soon sorted me out.
“Wilma’s the type of quine who would fuss over me or anyone else. She would do anything to help anybody.”
Brought up in Causewayend, Wilma was originally a hairdresser by trade and stayed in the profession for 15 years.
Briefly, she joined her husband at Linksfield Academy, where she worked as a cleaner and he as a janitor.
Eventually she became involved with two community councils – Linksfield and Sunnybank.
Wilma joined Sunnybank Community Centre in 2005, and helped it through troubled times in 2011, when it faced the threat of closure due to funding issues.
John, who has been a janitor for almost 45 years, said: “In Sunnybank a lot of the community was under threat and she kept the place open and kept it running by pushing to get funding.
“She started taking on part-time staff and doing classes. She did a fantastic job that quine.”
The couple have two grandchildren, Grace, 14, and Molly, 11.
John says he is humbled by the support shown to him since the loss of Wilma.
“I’m very proud of what she’s done and I hope Sunnybank keep up the good work. All the cards and flowers that have come into this house, that’s how well liked she was. It’s overwhelming, I can’t thank people enough.
Wilma was diagnosed two weeks ago, but had started showing signs of illness in November and had been referred to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
John Said: “It developed quickly after a cough, Wilma was referred after a scan showed a shadow in her lung.
“She never complained when she was ill, she just carried on and kept in touch with family.”
He spoke of one of Wilma’s greatest achievements – a musical production titled 80 Minutes Around The World, which saw youngsters from the centre take to the stage at the Tivoli Theatre in the city.
John Said: “She even did a show three years ago and got drama teachers to organise it – and what a night it was.”
Sunnybank Community Centre held the performance, along with Sunnybank Primary School, after scooping £50,000 from the People’s Project – which gives the public a say in awarding National Lottery funding to projects across the UK.
After writing out numerous applications – often in Doric – Wilma managed to secure the funding that would allow Sunnybank to carry on for another three years.
With only a year-and-a-half of funding remaining, the centre’s future is uncertain. However, its committee members are determined to carry on Wilma’s legacy.
Zuzana Jatelova, chairwoman of Sunnybank Community Centre, said: “Wilma was our star and without her the centre will not be the same.
“She was just a wonderful woman. “Her approach to people was really unique and you won’t find a person like that who has so much love.”
After joining Sunnybank in 2005, Wilma began to take on part-time workers and volunteers to prevent its closure.
The centre offers a variety of classes including English for foreign learners, knitting, children’s classes, fitness and more. Once a week, food is also delivered to the centre under their Fairshare programme.
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Elisa Quaglia, 39, vice-chairwoman at the centre, said: “A lot of people who join the English classes are wives who follow their husbands because they either work in oil and gas or university and they have very little English, but in a few years, because of Wilma and the committee pushing them to keep coming to the English classes, they get jobs, something they never thought they could do to get that level of English.”
Zuzana added: “She told me we should not let the centre go down.
“I was running Zumba classes which I had no clue about. She just told me to follow the DVDs, she said it would be the cheapest way to run the centre and this is going to be our first class. It was quite well attended.”
Zuzana said Wilma was “basically the heart of the community centre”.
She added: “We will never be the same that’s for the sure.
“She had a few projects in her mind we want to finish and carry on.”
Wilma’s funeral will take place at Aberdeen Crematorium, East Chapel next Thursday at 1.45pm.