Dismay as community centre sell-off going ahead without new venue being ready
Worried people who use a community centre fear they could lose their classes when the organisation is turfed out of its home a week before Christmas.
Park Hall Community Association has been told by Walsall Council that it must vacate the Broadway North Centre within days.
The site has been earmarked for demolition and the land put up for sale for redevelopment.
But bosses and service users said a promised new permanent home has been delayed while the offer of temporary premises in the meantime are not suitable for all classes.
A petition with hundreds of signatures and dozens of letters were sent to the authority pleading to allow them to remain at Broadway until the new building was complete.
But that has been rejected and they now must leave by December 18.
The community association fears some courses could fall by the wayside leaving pensioners, lonely people and those with mental health problems without support.
Walsall Council said it is still committed to completing the new building for Park Hall but that it had been held up in the planning process.
The community association was told around two years ago that Broadway North Centre would be closed and they would be relocated.
The building – which has been their home for the past eight years – has deteriorated and currently has no heating, hot water and been subjected to a number of break ins.
But that has not stopped the 17,000 annual users attending a range of classes such as healthy walks, yoga, cookery, keep fit, flower arranging, crafts, pilates, arts and gardening every week.
Both Park Hall chairman Steve Cooke and community manager Barbara McCracken said they have been reassured the new venue will be completed.
Mr Cooke said: “I don’t doubt the commitment from the council. The only problem I’ve got is the timescale.
“You can’t close one thing down and then expect to wait months for it to open back up. We can’t run like that. We need continuity.
“What we do is all about social cohesion. The number of people who are lonely and have no one to speak to, coming here helps their mental well-being.
He added some classes will move into the temporary building but others will be outsourced to other venues while the rest will be suspended.
Andrew Machin attends the healthy eating cookery class, which gives him respite from caring for his father Charles who has dementia.
He said: “I recently lost my mum and this class really helps me a lot as it gives me a couple of hours away from looking after Dad. I also get to take nice meals home for him as well.
"The changes will affect me greatly. I have written to the council saying I’m against the idea. It is a very important place for me.”
Widower Raymond Simpole joined the cookery class five years ago and he said: “It has been absolutely brilliant.
"I look forward to coming here every Wednesday and the friends we have made is superb.”
Barbara Grainger has been running keep fit classes for Park Hall Community Association for 37 years and all her service users are aged over 60.
She said: “The ladies pay to come to these classes, it’s not subsidised by the NHS or anyone else and yet it is doing them a lot of good.
"They say they feel totally invigorated and can move a lot better.
“All we wanted was to stay in this building until we could move into the new building. We don’t know if we will find a suitable temporary accommodation and everything is up in the air.
“It isn’t just getting together for exercise, it is about combating loneliness, being social and having friends.”
A Walsall Council spokesman said: “The council has already committed £212,000 towards the pre-fabrication of a building to meet the needs of the association, however like other development projects this new building will require planning permission before it can be installed at the proposed site.
“The agreed location for the new community building on land in the council’s ownership adjacent to the Grange Theatre Play House has a number of sensitivities in planning terms and, consequently, additional reports and surveys are required in order to support the planning application.
“The council has appointed a planning agent to prepare and submit the application and it is hoped that the new centre can be delivered and be ready for occupation by the end of April 2020.
“The building will be handed over subject to a robust business case which is currently being finalised by Park Hall Community Association.”