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]

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