Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The West Park Centre Report, Read Not All About It

The Russians closing the show!
Rick sent me the report on the West Park Centre. It's dull, and a short read. It seems deliberately bland and almost non-informative. I can't say that it explains why thousands of us had our lives turned upside down on November 5 [was that a good day to bury bad news?] and the weeks following as those of us based there desperately sought to rescue our possessions and our work lives from the armageddon that was surely our imminent electrocution!

Read all about it here:

a small concert from the hall balcony 

We, who have worked at and from the centre for years have always been proud to keep this former school alive, and pleased to preserve somewhere, built at a time when hall was really a hall with a stage and a balcony, and when a cupboard was a medium-sized office.

Architecturally, aesthetically, West Park doesn't have many claims to fame, compared, say, to a building like Royal Park School [detained for many years now at Assett Management's leisure], but when you compare it to the poor quality and poorly-designed holiday camp prison schools that are our pieces of PFI rubbish, West Park surely is a jewel.

this cupboard was full of art equipment
Words like functional, low key, unpretentious, convenient, welcoming, light and airy - spring to mind.
the foyer, the first thing you see, with Carole's kiosk at the end

stairway to Seminar Room, light and airy

Here's the initial reactions of ex-WP users and councillors:

1.  The report going to INACommittee on Thursday evening
 did not disclose any factor or fact that called for  immediate closure. These were  the  conditions identified in 2009. That is there was no new information which required closure.
That there is evidence which I have been promised but not yet received which indicates a pre-determination to close the Centre. This evidence when received will be published.
the figure required for re-opening are extreme and exaggerated.  A report by an electrical projects engineer  dated 8th October 2012  gave a breakdown of the costs of dealing with the electrics  which in his words were : In summary the installation requires renewing;  the that the report  includes a list of things to be done which do not need doing.

The report does not give any figures indicating the cost of this sudden closure nor  does it explain why there have been many visits to the Centre  by many individuals who should not have been allowed to enter a structure so dangerous it had to be closed immediately without warning.  Indeed the day after the panic closure a large group of Russians were allowed to use the Centre as normal despite the imminent  danger suggested. For this reason  I ask that this Report be not received until these inconsistencies have been cleared up. 

2. . .  if the centre was such a death trap all these years, who was responsible for the well-being of those within it?  I would suggest this represents gross negligence on the party responsible and would be very interested to know who it was.. G

3. . My thought precisely. They can not have it both ways. Either it is safe and should not have been closed or it is unsafe and has been unsafe for years and someone has allows lives to be endangered. I want to know which is the truth. L

4. Read it but not really any wiser. D
packing vans in the carpark

Monday, 3 December 2012

What closing the West park Centre meant to three tenants

On a regular basis, the West Park Centre drew into its old classrooms and corridors many  satisfied customers, not just local to West Park, but from all round Leeds and further afield [as the commentaries to follow will show].
Rest of the Best rehearsing in West Park Rehearsal Room

I asked Blah, Blah, Blah for their first thoughts:

Other than having to out of the blue find an office and rehearsal space plus storage space for the rate we were on in West Park, which is impossible and therefore destroying all our budgets for the foreseeable future, nothing much! As a small company and registered charity who rarely generate much profit, our budgets are incredibly tight and this sudden move will have permanent consequences for our financial situation in terms of our daily running costs. The impact is immeasurable, but hopefully won’t lead to our demise. Pavla
Sophie practises at West Park Centre; Sophie plays Notting Hill Carnival

Speaks for itself, this comment, I think. I asked Sue Tomassi from YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic for her reactions:

what the closure meant to everyone --- well ---from a YAMSEN committee member ---
packing, labelling and finding safe and accessible places for 10 rooms of equipment --- transport to get them there
finding and risk assessing venues for 3 choirs rehearsing for the annual Lord Mayor's concert  in Leeds Town Hall on Dec 5th
making sure the entries for the art competition were re-directed to Merrion House but then they had to be collected
finding a venue for 400 art entries to be judged
cancelling one choir rehearsal as there wasn't time to find another venue so transport issues with the schools involved
talking to vulnerable adults on the phone as they were worried how they could get to new venues
not doing anything I usually do for 2 weeks --- I do have a life!
and just from my point of view, I was in West Park for 10 days packing sorting and moving --- physically hard work --- I'm a volunteer so needn't have done it but the nature of most people faced with a problem is to sort it out, however,I am very angry about the way everyone at West Park has been treated and especially for David, Carol and Paul who have lost their jobs overnight --- it's very easy to sit in an office and say we'll close this building but it takes much more to come out and meet the people the closure affects and to tell them the truth, so maybe they can be invited to the next meeting or we go to them? --- Sue
library - so where's this going?

This from Mavis:

As coordinator of YAMSEN Adult Music Activities I want to say how hard we  are finding the situation with the West Park Centre being closed and being closed so suddenly. . . .
We are very committed to YAMSEN working as a team of Volunteers and we are all aware of the importance of being able to talk, share and plan  -we have no central point to meet- equipment is all over the place and we are finding it very frustrating.
The YAMSEN Adult Music Team (known as YAM) look on social interaction as a vital part the YAM Activities which take place on a Friday morning. There is so much more to the purpose of Friday morning YAM Activites. This involves,  over 60 Adult customers with Learning Disabilities, plus support workers and volunteers. Over 90 people in all. We are feeling very isolated without Carole’s Kiosk – this is becoming more important to us as time goes on. The activities alternate between Off By Heart Choir  and workshop Activities.
The workshop mornings have recently been redesigned to meet the needs of  so many people with diverse Special Needs. This has involved  4 or 5 different rooms which . . . we have recently set up training for our volunteers to be able to lead some of the sessions with smaller groups.
That is not possible now.
We have one big room and one smaller room –no where now to train people –this again is where Carole’s Kiosk and the foyer and our Gordon Parry Centre formed a fantastic Resource.
Part of the aim of Friday mornings is to help the customers develop their individual social skills. They have loved being able to order snacks and drinks independently whilst in a safe environment.This has always been an invaluable way of seeing customers  gain so much confidence.
The YAM Committee had the programme planned for the Year –we now have hours of preparation ahead of us to revamp each alternative weeks workshop –much of our equipment is not now easily accessible.
This approach from me is only the point of view from the YAM Activities. YAMSEN covers so much more  -an incredible amount of work done with Children –training teachers , students ,and many others who want to be able to give our special people the chance to shine through music making.
We need a base urgently to be able to fulfil these essential needs.
Many of our customers are unable to express themselves verbally –there is a lot of frustrated behaviour showing because it is the only way they can show how uneasy they  are with the changes we have had to make.
a view of the West Park shops now selling less sandwiches
Leeds City Council have a huge burden to carry  to people who live in Leeds and  are being deprived of the best Community Centre because of lack of planning –it is inhuman to close a centre with no notice when we all know a decision could have been made within the last 12 months giving everyone a reasonable amount of notice.
I am ashamed to live in Leeds
Mavis West –coordinator of YAM Activites
Vice President  of YAMSEN.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The West Park Centre, what again!

Letter to West Park Centre, as published in YEP Thursday 29 November 2012

gyms and playground-carpark
Well [re YEP 15 and 16 Nov], replacing the West Park Centre’s ancient electrics may cost up to £600,000. This is over twice the estimate that I heard two weeks ago. Either way, it’s a frightening large sum. But rather less than knocking down a capacious iconic building with a education covenant on it. And human terms, rather less than seeing how many minority social and ethnic groups you could alienate at any one time.  When Asset Management asked Cllr Lewis to sign West Park off, in one go they made homeless the Leeds National Union of Teachers, the Irish Arts Group, the Travellers Education team, and two charities for Arts and Music for adults and children with Additional/Special Needs YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic and Music Ark. Also permanently placed here drama group, Blah Blah Blah, and video makers: Nexomedia plus, of course, the main building user, Leeds ArtForms [Music and Arts Service]. And not forgetting the kiosk run by Carole.
dismantling the sound and light room

On a regular basis, nearly all the City of Leeds Youth Music groups rehearsed and gave concerts here; a local church booked WP every Sunday for eternity, Opera North and local professional and amateur orchestras parked for nothing in their hundreds and skipped into the hall, dragging their cellos behind them. Before the Ballet discovered the true meaning of city centre parking costs they tutu-ed around the old school gyms, and only this month the City Varieties gang was set to follow their footsteps.

the Ladies
At West Park you could weight-watch, give up cigs or gambling, train school staff to safe-guard, well you could hire a room from this council-run property and know that any profits [did I say profits?] weren’t filling the pockets of any private business-person.

the Disabled toilet
The electrics at West Park have been questionable for years. Despite this we were allowed to build and run a recording studio at one end of the building and a sound and light room for people with Additional/Special Needs. There was a disabled lift and ramp, two disabled toilets complete with hoists. Did I mention the storerooms? A storeroom in a 50s building would house two headteachers in a PFI build.

Thank goodness they saw the Russians coming and let them and their children who had travelled from all over the UK and from Eastern Europe have their afternoon at West Park, which hadn’t been broken on Friday and wasn’t any more broken on Saturday.

Yours sceptically, Victoria Jaquiss FRSA [ex-West park centre user] 
[Words not published in YEP in unbolded italics][don't usually feature pics of toilets in blogs, but you need how well-appointed it all was]

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Strange Closure of the West Park Centre, the Final Curtain

Everything is so expensive thse days. Community centres, education, life, well . . .  They closed the West Park Centre rather suddenly last week. I wrote thus to councillors and media:

For hire or sale: The West Park Centre?

Spacious former school on outskirts of Leeds, next to the Ringroad, easy access for people travelling from the city or from other towns. 

Massive carpark, full disabled access, recently installed wheelchair access, disabled toilets and hoists available.

The building has a state of the art sound and light room for children and adults with various disabilities to fully experience music. And until recently housed a Javanese gamelan, several sets of steel pans, marimbas, resonance boards, several high quality pianos [including a grand piano] and was the store for all the sets of instruments that Leeds schools used for its wider opportunities music classes.

At one end of the building there a fully equipped music studio which made all the CDs for the Leeds Town Hall Christmas concerts [and the rest], in another space there’s a fabulous hall with proper stage and balcony around one side at the top. Here all the main orchestras in Leeds have rehearsed and given concerts since the former school closed 25 years ago. Over in yet another space are two former gyms which for years housed Northern Ballet when they would otherwise have been homeless.

The old generously proportioned classrooms have been home to the Leeds National Union of Teachers, the Travellers Education Organisations, IrishArts, several video and drama societies [including Blah, Blah, Blah] and two music charities for people with disabilities [YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic and Musical Ark]. And of course, Leeds ArtForms Music Service and Leeds Schools Sports Service.

The building is spread out enough to allow many music activities to occur concurrently, and in fact, until only last week here practised the Leeds Youth Opera, the City of Leeds Youth Orchestra, the Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows, Leeds Schools Choir and a host of other central ensembles. [left is a picture of music centre band East Steel playing a concert in the main hall.]. 
Over the past years, the West Park Centre has become home to the forgotten ones: adults with learning disabilities, and their 70 strong group has formed a choir which sings around Yorkshire including at Saltaire Festival and Leeds Town Hall.

There’s a lovely central foyer with a kiosk where all centre users can gather round and where, in fact, until last week Carole and her employees were serving sandwiches and jacket potatoes. And in this space it’s been common to see people in wheelchairs coming to music sessions rubbing shoulders with Leeds teachers on training courses.

The two large carparks are big enough for minibuses to transport 100 people, and still have room for others’ cars and van. There’s a safe compound where the Music Service, the Travellers and Opera North have housed their vans for the last decade.

In the last few years the lower half of the building had all its electrics modernised. The top end needs the same, with costs maybe at £200,000, but this money would easily be recouped as the centre would fetch millions on the open market. The building manager has spent the last few years keeping the building as safe and as smart as public money would allow, with specially designed cupboards [see steelpans and gamelan in boxes on sheleves above] to squirrel away the thousands of musical instruments that have been housed here. It has been a popular letting for the church, Scottish dancers, education trainers, the ballroom dancers, Weightwatchers, Girls Club, etc etc etc etc etc. many many more. The last show it put on was only last weekend when Russians from all over the world and the UK came together to celebrate their culture. And thank goodness someone had the courage to reinste this event before Leeds looked incompetent and stupid to the whole [Slavonic] world.

It would good to see the centre back in use soon as possible as, until last week all the services were functioning normally [central heating, water, half the electricity, cctv etc]. Also the old-fashioned iconic building is redolent with the history of all its users, and that’s something you can’t put a price on. [Though you can put a price on the new lettings we all have to find for our groups].

Or of course, you knock it all down, sell the land, put up new houses and dance on the graves of all the people who used to meet and learn here.

Victoria Jaquiss FRSA [ex-centre-user]

Inner Area Councillors Part Two

I wrote a letter to YEP a few years thanking heaven for the unemployed, the sick, the maternity leavers, students and the part-timers, because, without the amount of time that they had at their disposal, Unity Day would never have taken off. Also also thank heavens for Unity for giving local people an opportunity to do some local good.

So when some woman, at the Inner Area Meeting  suddenly decided to have a go at the Royal Park Consortium for being peopled  with the unemployed and those with mental health problems I was rather taken aback. Community organisations only survive because some members aren't at work all day.

Here's some pictures of Foxwood and Sparrows surviving the downpours that were Unity Day this year. Eek!

Royal Park School A Brief Personal Overview

Royal Park School

I was a governor at Royal Park more or less from the moment that Georgia stepped her five year old foot across its threshold. And, of course in the presence of the mighty headteacher, Rita Samuel, we soon knew that the school was a pillar in its community. We fought for speed limits, against "adult" signs, and against the polluting indiscriminate posters that littered our walls, bustops, even trees.  When the Newlands was firebombed in 1995, the school took in traumatised families to support them through the experience. The drug gangs went on fighting the police however in the days to follow; and even now, nearly two decades later you can still see the marks on Hyde Park and Woodsley Roads where the cars burnt to skeletons.  At Royal Park, where there was lawlessness in the streets, the school exuded moral correctness and order.

I chose Royal Park School, even earlier for Walt, and then Daisy, for no other reason than we lived in Brudenell Mount. Absolutely no other reason. I know that schools are constructed of a complex interaction between staff and students.  And that a school can be what you make it. And I think that history has its place to play. The staff who knew your siblings have a head start on knowing you, and caring for you.

And you close down history at your peril.  Education Leeds closed down history  all over Leeds, and destabilised many a community. Their chief executive stood in our very school building and promised that the school, accused of having surplus places would stay in educational use. It was only months before the plans to site Sure Start and Burley Library here came to nothing.

We have kept the Royal Park story alive in the media and the community's hearts. People have different ideas about how it should be used. My preference, while neighbouring schools are being expanded and potakabinned, is for education. As HMOs begin to be abandoned in Hyde Park, the need surely for Royal Park to become a school again resurfaces. [Here's a picture of Sue organising us to tidy up the flower beds.]

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Inner area Councillors meeting Part One

Sue doesn't do emails, internet or computers, but she can't half text! So, as soon as the Sparrows and  I finish murdering Bridge Over Troubled Water I am on my way to Woodsley Road Community Centre for a local area councillors' meeting.  After the initial open debate we gather round three tables, one for noise, one for transport and parking, and one for litter. [I simplify their titles.]

My favourite was the Noise Table. I sounded off about the parties that arose in the Moorlands and bellowed down Hyde Park Road and into the bedrooms windows of the not so sleeping estate residents.  Yes, I've kept Noise Nuisance diaries; yes, I've been round to complain. "But it's Hyde Park, " one bloke expostulated, "It's where I live, "I replied, "and like to sleep". The next time they had a party, Rick phoned the landlord at 4am, and asked them to listen in.

Another time Ursula and I went round together to a party, in full swing, marquee, dex, speakers; sadly, at the one and the same time, I was phoning the Noise People and Ursula was asking them to turn it down, so when the Noise people arrived, they reckoned it wasn't noisy enough.  Back home past girls weeing in the street in St John's Grove.

Anyway, according to the chairs of these tables,  the powers that be will be coming down harder on the nuisances, and we will all sleep happily ever after.

I moved onto the Parking Table. . . . .

A few days later the party down the street went on into the small hours; and two days after that some new residents showed off their lack of parking skills.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Hyde Park Leeds LS6 UK

September 2012. Am going for the third blog here.  The Leeds Schools Campaigner is really just for education with a leaning towards Leeds, LS6, UK. The Letter to Carriacou is my letter about gigs and personal adventures to Debs, who should be in Carriacou but at present is in an Emirate. Don’t ask.  [Read the blog.]

And so, may I introduce: Hyde Park Leeds and the Wider World. As it says on the tin, about local events, politics, community in Hyde Park, sometimes just local, and sometimes as it affects Leeds and then further afield.

Hyde Park, Leeds is the area surrounding and a bit northwards from Woodhouse Moor [see below on a sunny day], an old battleground from the English Civil War, and Hyde Park doesn’t usually get a good press.  And this blog does not particularly propose to change that.

I live in Hyde Park, hence my interest.  Like many who do, I stayed here after Uni, lovely architecture, nice mix of cultures and social groupings, population on the transient side, from the students to the immigrants, all leads to a life led privately.

So much Victoria architecture was, of course,  often lovely up fronts which were often facades for rather plainer backs.  

 The streets above are Brudenell Road at sunset, and then Moorland Avenue. Moorland Avenue is really the back street for Moorland Road and St John's Grove. This aspect of the houses on this street is inevitably plain, and the rebuilt garage [above/left] with its attendant rubbish is a true eyesore. Most houses on Moorland Avenue have given over most or all of their gardens for parking spaces. And, as you see can see from the above  picture, some trees were harmed in this exercise.  In short they [the trees] are not there anymore, and actually, despite some complaints,  no landlords were harmed in this exercise, and no replacement trees ever grew in their place.

Ironically  the sign in the front garden of the rubbish back declares there to be "luxury apartments". This is a conservation area so trees should not be felled, and signs should not be erected.