Barrier at Sandwell community centre causing problems

“People have been struggling here, but they’re relieved to see we are open. The community here thought our building was abandoned,” said Natalie Weston, the founder of Dynamic Kids.

The barrier causing problems for users of Charlemont and youth community centre.
The barrier causing problems for users of Charlemont and youth community centre.

Dynamic Kids, like many children’s clubs up and down the country, isn’t unique – it offers arts and crafts; crochet; film days; and fun-filled sports. What is unique is where it is based in Sandwell and the struggles the club has had to keep it open.

The club itself is based at the Charlemont community and youth centre in the heart of the Charlemont Farm estate, first built in 1964, on the border of Walsall and West Bromwich. The centre itself is a small building towered by huge high-rise flats. The only signifier it’s the 21st Century here is the modern cars dotted around the car park.

“​​We recently opened the shutters from the outside, and the amount of people that have been surprised it’s open is unbelievable on the estate. The centre manager would only open the front door for our playgroups.

“This whole play area for the kids has been completely refurbished by me and my dad. The deal between us and Sandwell Council was if I picked the flooring and the paints, they would order it for me. But I still had to do all the work myself.

“It’s the same when I had to cut the grass all out back because the stinging nettles were completely overflowing.”

Ms Weston said she even continued to run the centre when the heating wasn’t working in the height of December. “If I didn’t, who would be looking after the kids and helping them?”

Outside the community centre itself has a playground of only a slide and a mini blue metal frame. It’s the only play equipment outside the centre in a very small caged piece of grass. Sure, there’s a local park about a 20 second walk away. But even that looks like it hasn’t seen much refurbishment.

The other problem for the community centre is parking. A huge yellow barrier blocks the community centre off from the main roads of Charlemont Farm. That’s in addition to the moon crater potholes dotted along the public right of way.

The right of way is, legally speaking, owned by Sandwell council. But the yellow barrier has prevented groups using the community centre. It’s become a hot topic on the estate, enough for the local councillor, David Fisher, to raise the issue in at least three separate full council meetings.

He said: “There used to be a Saturday morning club for children with disabilities, but that’s been cancelled because nobody could drive any vehicles down here because of the barrier. That group only started around a month ago and it was getting a bit of momentum. It just wasn’t safe for people to come down here on wheelchairs or who were unsteady on their feet.

“We want to keep supporting these guys. They do great work. But we feel there’s been missed opportunities here,” he added.

West Bromwich has received £25 million of funding to improve the town centre. The most prominent funds include regenerating the town centre and creating better cycling and walking access.

Some areas are more funded than others, explained councillor Les Trumpeter, who has lived in the area for the majority of his life.

“Sandwell is such a big place and you wouldn’t really appreciate it until you go from one side to the other. A lot of the funding appears to be in West Bromwich, yes, but it’s not the reality here. We have to fight for things here in Charlemont. Even though we’re in West Bromwich, I think it is a bit of a myth.”

The problem with levelling up, and projects such as those in West Bromwich, prioritises large-scale infrastructure projects. Some thinktanks, such as New Local, has called for the government to introduce a community power act, to devolve power to councils and local people and give them a greater say over local investment. The thinktank says this, rather than the to-down approach by the government, would adequately resource communities and voluntary organisations.

A Sandwell Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the ongoing concerns regarding public access to Charlemont community centre. The council has a legal right of way, and a barrier erected by the land owner is obstructing that right of way.

“We continue to work with the land owner to enable the council to exercise its rights. However, if the barrier remains, the council will consider enforcement options that may be available to us. The council is in contact with all relevant parties with the intention of agreeing a solution amicably and as quickly as possible.”

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