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Community group fights plan to sell historic Wolverhampton building

By Pete Madeley | Wolverhampton | News | Published:

Dozens of community groups set to be turfed out of their home under council plans to 'sell off' one of Wolverhampton's most historic buildings.

The Old School on Dudley Road, Blakenhall

Wolverhampton Council wants to close The Old School on Dudley Road, Blakenhall, a Grade II-listed building which opened 145 years ago as one of the city's first boarding schools.

Part of the two-acre site, which consists of two main buildings and a car park, is used by the Blakenhall Action Community Forum (BACF), which hosts sessions for around 30 community groups that are attended by more than 900 people each week.

Now council bosses have given the groups 28 days to vacate the premises, citing concerns over fire safety.

The BACF has vowed to fight the decision, saying that a fire risk assessment carried out in March this year found the risk to be 'low to medium'.

BACF secretary Vikas Chopra said the decision had left group members 'deeply upset' and concerned that they would not be able to find alternative homes.

"The council has given us no help whatsoever with this site and have made it very clear that they want to sell it off.

"Where are we supposed to go? Many of these groups are vital for communities in the city and feel like the council is leaving them high and dry.

"Everyone is very worried but we are determined to fight the decision."

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Community hub

Groups holding regular sessions at the The Old School include several churches, Asian women's groups, activity groups for children and the elderly and employability training.

The site closed more than 30 years ago and the majority of it has been left to rot. The BACF took over a section of it with the aim of restoring it to its former glory as a community hub.

East Park councillor Anwen Muston, a former BACF member, said that although the building was 'desperately needed' by the community, the council could not afford the high cost of repairs.

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"We were told that to restore the entire site would cost around £6 million. The council does not have that kind of money and finding people to fund such a project is not easy.

"It's closure will be a sad day that will leave a big vacuum in the city."

The BACF, which has been told it must be off the site by November 2, is launching a petition over the closure. A meeting to discuss the issue was due to take place last night.

Wolverhampton Council spokesman Oliver Bhurrut said: "In light of the Grenfell Tower disaster the council continues to assess all its sites.

“A recent inspection of The Old School showed it does not meet fire safety regulations.

“The leaseholder has not dealt with all the issues raised by a previous fire inspection two years ago and unfortunately does not have the funds to carry out the necessary works; while the council is having to push its limited resources into frontline services across all of its sites.

“We have been in regular conversation with the community users of The Old School site and have offered our support in helping them find viable alternative locations.

“We appreciate it is a difficult time for them, but public safety has got to be our primary concern.

“The council is now assessing its options for The Old School site.”

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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