Groups prepare for battle to save community centres

Lewisham Park Youth Centre is one of three in the area earmarked for closure.
Lewisham Park Youth Centre is one of three in the area earmarked for closure.

The potential closure of three community centres in Morley has sparked fierce opposition from local groups.

Lewisham Park Centre, St Gabriel’s Community Centre and Gildersome Youth Club could be all be shut as the council seeks to make £250,000 worth of cuts by 2017.

To remain open, the buildings would have to either transfer ownership from the local authority to a community organisation, provided they can run it “more effectively,” or alternatively improve its viability and income.

Val Cust, who has run her Kids for Kids dance group from the Lewisham centre for 32 years said: “We were devastated when we found out that it could close. We’ve been there for a long, long time and taught so many kids over the years.

“I don’t know what we’d do if it closed - we would probably have to try and find somewhere else. We put the money we charge our students back into things for them, like accommodation when we go away to competitions.

“If we had to move we wouldn’t be able to keep doing what we do at the moment.

“I feel for the other groups who use the centre too, we’re just trying to remain positive and hope it changes.”

There are fears that even if the centres be saved by privatisation, groups who use them may struggle with added running costs that may be incurred afterwards.

Groups based at Gildersome Youth Club that will be affected include a playgroup which has been running for around 40 years.

Coun Bob Gettings of Gildersome Parish Council said that such groups were “more important than the building itself.”

“We would not want to lose it unless the people who use it now could be accommodated elsewhere,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see them cease to function because they have nowhere else to go.”

Coun Jack Dunn who represents East Ardsley, said: “I don’t think any of us want the community centres to close and I hope they can be saved but it is paramount that there is a drive to increase the use of them and we need to find an alternative way of running them.”

Coun Peter Gruen, executive member for support services, insisted that closures would only be a “last resort when all other options have been exhausted.”

He said: “Community centres pay a valuable role in bringing communities together and we are very keen to support the effective running of centres which are well used and represent a good use of public money.

“We really want to hear the views of users and members of the community especially about any ideas they have for the future of their centres.”

Centres in Hunslet, Rothwell, Kippax, Bramley, Meanwood, Whinmoor and Otley are also under threat.