Express & Star

Neighbours back plans by charity helping women and children to replace dilapidated base

Neighbours of a charity which helps vulnerable women and children in Walsall have lent their support to its plans to replace its dilapidated base.

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The current Aaina Community Hub next to St Michael\'s Church in Bath Street, Walsall. PIC: Google Street View

Aaina Community Hub’s original bid to build a new three-storey home to replace its 1960s existing facility in Bath Street was rejected. Walsall Council planning officers said the new building would obscure the view of the neighbouring Grade II Listed St Michael’s Church and would not fit in with the character of the local area.

In the fresh application, a number of changes have been made to their plans including setting the new building further back so it doesn’t obstruct the view of the church. And the support service’s fresh bid for permission for the project has been backed by other groups who have worked with Aaina in the past.

Neighbour Caldmore Village Festival Group said: “Over the years we have often worked in partnership (with Aaina). We appreciate the wide range of services already provided at the hub at the great benefit of the people.”

“However we are also intimately aware of the limitations of the small, old fashioned and not at all energy efficient building and its immediate environs.

“The building itself has never been particularly pleasing to the eye and the terraced areas around it have been widely underused and falling into disrepair.

“We find the planned development to be a huge improvement on the existing building and a great opportunity both for the future of the centre and the entirety of Caldmore.

“It is refreshing to see a community organisation demonstrate such a vision and ambition for the local area and we would like to express out full support for the proposal.“We hope you (planners) reconsider your initial decision and support this ambitious new development for the benefit of the local area, its residents and partnering organisations.”

Iqra Supplementary School and Youth Provision has delivered services from Aaina for almost 20 years for children and young people aged between five and 21 and contributed to the design of the proposed new building.

Artist impression of the proposed new Aaina Community Hub in Bath Street, Walsall. PIC: Potter Church and Homes Architects

They said: “Despite the run-down, inadequate and dated facilities the hub is one of the very few community buildings in the St Matthews ward that meets the needs of young people from low-income families to access free extra-curricular activities they would otherwise be excluded from.

“Despite the dated infrastructure, we have provided services for many years but fear that if planning permission to develop the community hub is not granted in a timely manner to fully meet the growing need of local families, they will experience further hardship and exclusion.”

Aaina was established in 1995 and bought the building in 2020. The charity had looked at other sites but beneficiaries said they would prefer to remain in the area.

Agents Potter Church and Homes Architects said: “The building is a lifeline for women and their families in the locality, there is no other similar provision in the vicinity that provides life enhancing and meaningful services for residents living in the locality.”

“Women and their children have access to local information and services, reducing social isolation, especially newly arrived families from across the world who require additional support and an initial anchor that makes them feel welcomed, supported and a new member of the community.

“The Hub provides a safe space for women fleeing domestic abuse in the locality, along with supporting victims who are not yet able to flee but require support that builds resilience.”

They added: “The project is the rebuilding of the existing Women’s Centre, a 1960s dilapidated building into a purpose-built sustainable and innovative Community Hub.

“The building will provide much-needed regeneration in the locality, injecting investment that will boost employment opportunities at the Hub and surrounding area.

“It will contribute to the local economy and a reduction in anti-social behaviour in the surrounding area.

“The Hub will provide a vibrant and stimulating facility that encourages growth and progression for the most disadvantaged residents locally and will lift women out of unemployment, low paid employment into wider and better opportunities.”