'Betrayed': Row erupts as woodwork group told to leave community centre for new pupil referral unit

A row has erupted over the use of a community centre - with a woodworking group set to be replaced by a new pupil referral unit.

Mick Smith, front, with fellow members George Aldridge, Bruce Pougher and Brian Douglas, of the senior citizens woodwork club
Mick Smith, front, with fellow members George Aldridge, Bruce Pougher and Brian Douglas, of the senior citizens woodwork club

Dudley Council has told Senior Citizens Enterprise Woodwork Group to leave the premises of Applied Learning Centre, in Meadow Road, Dudley, where it has been based for 10 years.

There are plans for Priory Boxing Club to take over the site and launch a pupil referral unit, a specialist school for children who aren't able to attend mainstream schools.

Mike Smith, chairman of the woodwork group, claims the deal was made without their knowledge, leaving members feeling cross.

He said: "We know they have been getting their heads together and it has been going on quite a bit.

"We had a letter come in saying 'you have got to be out by April 7'.

"I phoned up the person who is in charge of the building [at the council], and they said 'that is what they have told me to do. They have told me you have got to get out'.

"We do feel betrayed. More than anything, what gets me most is the way they have treated us.

"To say they are supposed to be responsible councillors, who look after people in the community, they haven't."

Mr Smith, aged 75 from Coseley, said this decision could spell the end of the woodworking group, which has been running for 30 years.

He claimed Dudley Council has failed to find the group an alternative base. The woodworking group operated at the centre for free, but helped to maintain the building.

The group is made up of around 20 elderly members, aged from 65 up to 93, who carry out woodwork free of charge.

Inside the property, they use a range of machines and tools, including lathes.

They have crafted items for West Midlands Police and Dudley Zoo, including boxes for penguins and castles for hamsters at the latter site.

Mr Smith added: "We don't make no money out of it. They [members] have been locked up for 12 months, and they were really looking really forward to getting back out. It has knocked it all on the head."

Paul Gough, chairman of Priory Boxing Club, said his group is aiming to help the wider community, while they will pay a lease to use the building.

Paul Gough, as seen at his boxing club in 2017

He dismissed Mr Smith's claims that the council has failed to find the woodworking group an alternative site, and said he had even tried to help them himself.

He said: "We are setting up our own PRU school to help the kids in the borough, because there are over 300 kids in Dudley who are not in education.

"We [the boxing club] have worked with PRU schools for a while, and now we are looking at setting up our own.

"What we are doing is taking over that building, and it will be run as a PRU school in the day, and after school, and on weekends, it will be run by the wider community.

"There will be groups working out of there to cater all of the community, from the very young, to the very old.

"Then that centre is not just focused on one group, but the whole of the community.

"Also, we are paying for the building. The council can't just lose money, hand over fist, year in, year out.

"This way, it actually makes revenue for the council, gives back to the community, helps the community and there will be money invested in the property itself.

"The council is in the process of getting them in their own building, which is more fit for purpose.

"The council is not turning their back on them. They are not throwing them out into the wilderness. They are trying to go above and beyond."

In response to the story, Kevin O’Keefe, chief executive of Dudley Council, said: "Last year the council was asked about the availability of the former Meadow Road Learning Centre to create a new community school for children at risk of exclusion from mainstream school. This was supported by children’s services.

"Initially the woodworking group, which has used the former Learning Centre’s workshop for free, was advised by the proposed school it could remain.

"However, unfortunately, they later decided that the woodworking group couldn’t be accommodated and asked the council to relocate the group.

"Unfortunately due to the type of equipment used and the need for specific requirements such as mechanical dust ventilation, it has not been possible to identify an immediately available alternative.

"The council is working with the group in seeking alternative accommodation and has offered to help the group with removal and temporary storage of its equipment but, regrettably for the group, the timeline the proposed school are working to necessitates their relocation as soon as possible."

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