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.]