Monday, 25 February 2013

YAMSEN:SpeciallyNeeds' Children's Choirs

I am a member of YAMSEN, a charity run by volunteers working with children and adults with learning disabilities and additional physical problems, through music.
YAMSEN has been running for 30+ years and is very well respected nationwide. A small part of what we do is to run three choirs for children and adults – in total they represent 200 people with a learning disability. We meet up twice a month to sing together and rehearse for concerts – the last one was in Leeds Town Hall in December. The West Park Centre was our base – great room space, grand piano, wheelchair access and lift, disabled toilet facilities, ramps to enable everyone to access the ground floor and plenty of parking for all the minibuses that transport everyone.
As a result of the centre’s closure we’re having to find venues week by week if we can, and it means we can’t plan concerts which the choirs love to work towards. Why would anyone with any sense close a building overnight without a strategy to house everyone in another or even better building?
For goodness sake, fix the electrics so we can get back in there and gradually refurbish it, and get someone in with some vision to market the building and see its potential – a fantastic community arts centre. West Park could be filled day and evening. Most people don’t want whizzy new buildings – they want spaces they can use, easy parking, access and most of all a feeling of community which we’ve lost.
Sue Tomassi

Friday, 22 February 2013

Without West Park, Business as Usual, but at What and at Whose Cost?

Here's a letter from Mary to the Council:
As a member of the Leeds Symphony Orchestra, and a teacher for ArtForms, 
the last few months have been extremely difficult. As far as the 
orchestra is concerned, we have temporary, but inappropriate rehearsal 
space at a local church. There is a problem with storage of our 
equipment. It is very cold, and has poor acoustics for rehearsing. Some 
councillors might like to think we are happily sorted but this is not 
the case. Our conductor, Martin Binks has spent days of his time looking 
at alternative venues - schools, church halls etc, and nothing has 
emerged. West Park Centre fulfilled all our requirements. I know this is 
the situation for many other community groups who used the premises.

As far as ArtForms is concerned, my work in schools has continued okay, 
though the dislocation of the individual teachers from each other, and 
the admin staff  makes life difficult and has had a demoralising effect 
on all of us, even though, as professionals, we are of course delivering 
business as usual. I'm sure you can understand that to have no base or 
centre makes us feel it is much harder to feel we belong as a group. i 
strongly hope that this is not your intention.

On behalf of other ArtForms' departments, the logistics of instrument 
storage, loading, parking, running numerous groups off-site, trying to 
run development days for pupils, training days for staff, the music 
technology studio ,and the Gordon Parry Centre for pupils with special 
needs- all these things have been incredibly difficult and have affected 
teachers and pupils alike.

i will leave this here, but urge you to consider again, the decision to 
close the centre. iIt is unique, and surely the cost of refurbishment 
would not be more than the other options you are considering.

Yours faithfullly,

Mary P ARCM, GRSM ,PGCE,   Artforms teacher/ principal clarinet 
player- leeds Symphony Orchestra

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Hyde Park. All Excited about Bins

Just in case you have tuned in for the next instalment of the West Park Saga, I am briefly returning to my roots here:

"not my problem anymore"
Went to the Community Forum at Woodsley Road Community Centre this evening. Got all excited about bins. If you read the papers you'd think it's all about how your own bins get forgotten - and once for four weeks running. Here's some pics of Moorland Avenue to that effect:

nicely lined up even after 4 weeks

But now I have met a dedicated [in both senses of the word] environmental officer with some ideas re bins and their collections.  Chris explained the different approaches to refuse collections that he and his department were experimenting with.

And now this is exciting.

I get really depressed when I hear the familiar clink of glass on inside of bin. There's a student house not a million miles, and after you've been kept awake by the imbibing bit, get irritated by the weeing in the streets, then you find the glass empties are destined for landfill.

"What pavement?"
Well, I'm thinking: it's the 21st century; recycling has been around awhile; there's bottle banks everywhere; we have a Green MP in this country. This lot must have spent ages at school, and  got 3 good A levels to get the redbrick that is Leeds University or the 60s concrete that is the Met. Were they too busy in the library to put out the rubbish? Did they all have servants for the after-dinner side of life? I do hope they are not doing economics and going to be the MPs of the future.

Well irritation is one thing. But how to educate the already over-educated? Round our table at Woodsley the ideas ran from information to prosecution. Someone suggested parking fines for bins left on the pavements [love that one]; another suggestion was making examples of a few. The maximum fine for not putting bins back off the street is £75.  I'm up for that one too.

What's really important here is not a few do-gooding locals and their war on people who don't recycle, but really the future of the planet. If you don't go to the bottle bank half a mile down the road to do your bit, then whatever else don't you do?

No Scrutiny this week

Oh my Goodness, it's endless. First it's the sudden closure [November], then the council meetings, some we get to, some just councillors, Inner North East [December] at the Cardigan Centre, then just about everybody get to meet Assett Management, then Executive board [February], then we meet Cllr Lewis, and Asset Management again. And then it's Feb 21st Scrutiny, only they're only only discussing when they're discussing it. So, not exactly getting us back in.

Month by month, the West Park Centre sits impatiently unused, by hundreds of violinists, and cellists and the rest of the boys and girls in the band, and by the gamellanists and the pannists [no half term practice for the Sparrows as they head for Barnado's at the Town Hall], unused by the music therapists and the kick-boxers, and the ballroom-dancers, and the orchestras of Leeds. Think you get the picture.

This blog is to say West Park Centre is not on the Scrutiny Board agenda on February 21st.
orchestra in gym

And do you know, when I wanted to put an electric shower in my house, Ollie the Electrician said you'll need a new fuse box, so we got a new fuse box.

Phew! There was me thinking I was going to have take the family and live in a couple of guest houses nearby, put the cat in a cattery, and ship all the furniture into storage while we thought about it.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Executive Board thinks about the West Park Centre

On Friday the Executive Board from Leeds Council met to discuss the West Park Report. A small deputation of West Park Refugees, who were either retired, part time, or not conducting a large group of adults at the West Park Church, went down to the Civic Hall.
taking down the curtains in the Main Hall

Five options were offered ranging from fully keeping the centre standing to full demolition, with a recommendation for two:  either partial or full demolition. The board wisely opined that
1. more information needed to come in before they could make a proper informed decision
2. that the decision had to be exactly the right one, yet speed was of the essence
for a change - it's City Square
3. that some ex-users need proper temporary accommodation as of yesterday
4. they needed to consult fully with the users before making any final decisions

They also acknowedged that most people consuted wanted the centre as it is - of course without any holes in the roof or the potential for electrocution.

The people who spoke were Cllrs Lewis, Golton, Yeadon and Wakefield.

A small group of us met with Cllr Lewis and Mr Farrington from Asset Management to discuss these decisions and the way forward. Firstly the West Park Campaign Group meets/met on Sunday to discuss how best to fully inform the decision-makers; then there's Scrutiny on Thursday 21st at 10am at the Civic Hall. Open to the public. Sorry if you are at work; but, hey teachers, what better way to spend a half-term morning. If you can't attend, you can send in a letter to the Council.

Musical Arc at the West Park Centre

Musical Arc   [ ]  gave me this letter, and these pictures to post. 

Dear Council

This is a letter on behalf of all members of Musical ARC, a registered charity group based in Leeds. We are writing with regret regarding the closure of the West Park Centre, a rehearsal space which served as our home for seven years. We shall not only voice concern for the way we were treated during the event, but also bring forth an appeal for the centre to reopen.

Firstly, an overview should be given of what exactly Musical ARC stands for. The intrinsic value of its work, which took place under West Park Centre’s shelter for many years, will also be expressed.

Musical ARC is a collective of adults who congregate weekly to share and create music, both as an outlet for themselves and as a way of promoting disability equality. The members of the group are of varying musical ability, and many have sensory and physical impairments. In recent times, they have made a powerful impression on many of Leeds’ primary schools, by conducting workshops in which they teach and perform.

Consequently, we are sending out a fundamental message to people of all ages: Disability should not lead to segregation in the community.  It can feel like much of life concentrates on our disabilities; however Musical ARC focuses only on our abilities, our potential.  It is a place we can individually contribute to a union, and many of us have been attending regularly for years.
Therefore on 5th November 2012, it came as a huge shock to hear of the abrupt closure of the West Park Centre. This discovery was particularly disappointing for those who had already left their homes for the session that day, and as a result of late notice were stranded outside the practice area. The lack of information given about the imminent closure was highly unethical. Thankfully, no harm came to the members (who were potentially without transport for over three hours in a November climate).

Although now settled in a new location (Meanwood Community Centre), there was every chance that the group would be left without one. Any information on the closure had to be sought out personally by the members of Musical ARC. The vision that it would be unable to continue its necessary work due to an ‘electrical fault’ and a ‘problem with the water’ at West Park (as told to Shehnaaz in a phone call with Greg Mulholland) was distressing enough.  Yet being shielded from a formal warning by leading bodies was purely unjust. 

West Park Centre’s closure came around the time that Musical ARC were preparing for a series of school workshops, but despite the disruption of continuity, we are finally able to reflect on the experience and put forward our expectations. Our main principle is that we will witness a re-opening of the West Park Centre. It provided us (and countless others) with valuable territory for the growth of Leeds’ art forms.

 Additionally, we believe that its revival should go ahead with some amendments.  Investment is essential to any business, and the arts should be treated with a parallel outlook. If West Park had a creative and performing arts venue with accessible, communal facilities such as recording studios, craft/rehearsal rooms and storage space, then groups such as our own would have the means to generate revenue for Leeds City Council. Venues such as the West Park Centre warrant further recognition for the profound way that its groups have changed lives.

Lastly, we at Musical ARC propose that a significant improvement is seen in the communication of the council and other organisations. What happened to us as a result of the closure was disconcerting. We hope never to witness the same lack of consideration again, where a change affects us so personally.

Yours sincerely

 Melissa Thompson [on behalf of all members of Musical Arc. ]
Shehnaaz Junwalla
Lia Garret
Melissa Dawson Bowling
David Boyes
Dawn Kelly
James Yates
Emma Stewart
Vicky Orton 
Kim woodier
Marlena backzowski
Robert Niazamena
David Serrit

Friday, 15 February 2013

Letter from MP re West Park Centre

Greg Mulholland recommends at least a partial reopening and as soon as possible, and when you comsider the amount of money being wasted on the ex-users' temporary and not very good accommodation [or not at all as in some cases], most of us would agree. He wrote thus to the Executive Board:

13 February 2013 WEST PARK CENTRE

I was pleased to hear that you are to discuss the future of the West Park Centre at the Executive Board this Friday and have read the officer's report with interest.    I write to urge you to move quickly to re open at least part of the premises so that as many as possible of the user groups can resume their activities there, rather than allow it to remain closed whilst options for the site are further explored.

Leaving the building closed can only lead to further rapid deterioration in its condition.    I ask you therefore to undertake the repairs that are required to ensure that the building (or part of it at the very least) complies with health and safety requirements whilst the examination and discussion of options for its longer term future are under way.   To do otherwise puts further at risk the viability of the building as well as that of those user groups who are currently homeless or temporarily housed in inadequate premises.

The Centre has provided not just vital local community space but, as a cultural hub, has been a valuable asset to the whole city.   The benefits of co-location of the many organisations which have operated there are in danger of being lost.    Many serve the whole city and the West Park Centre has been an extremely successful location for them, offering appropriate facilities as well as easy access and parking.   Closing the Centre would inevitably result in fragmentation of these cultural activities to sites across the city, a point which is acknowledged in the report.   As well as the loss of synergy and shared expertise, closure also runs the very real  risk of some of the groups being unable to continue .

Closing the Centre permanently would result in a very significant cultural loss to the city and therefore I ask you not to dismiss the option of full re-opening.    The report presented to you takes a number of factors into account in its analysis of options but does not adequately evaluate the value to the community and the city as a whole of a Centre which has offered a home to such a wide variety of musical and performing arts groups in particular.

Finally, I believe that there is an important issue of trust involved here.   Residents and users have been deeply dismayed by the way in which the Centre was closed, by what they have learned about the lack of maintenance carried out on the property over the years and by misinformation that has circulated.  There is a widespread perception that the Council has not been open and transparent about the Centre.    It is therefore, I believe, crucially important at this stage to take action that will restore their faith in the good intentions of the Council with regard to the Centre.

Re-opening part of the Centre whilst examining the options for the future, and including users and residents in the discussion of those would be a good way to start to redress this and would, more than any verbal reassurances, offer tangible evidence that the Council supports the local community and values the work of the city wide groups that grew and thrived at the West Park Centre.

Yours sincerely

Greg Mulholland MP, 
Member of Parliament for Leeds North West

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Sport at the West Park Centre: Our Olympic Legacy?

We were very excited a year or so back when the Sports Side of Education in Leeds joined us at the Arts Side at the West Park Centre. Successive governments have paid lip service, it seemes to me, about the value of sport or music/art/drama, but schools get measured on none of these things, and yet research over and over again proves their value to the intellectual and social development of our children. At the West Park Centre we knew what was important!

And Sports had just settled in when the West Park Centre was so rudely closed. 

Straight away, they lost the hall space for courses; the alternatives are smaller, and restrict their maximum capacity and so affect their contact and income. They are a resource rich service and have lost 'arms length' storage space which costs them time, convenience and efficiency. 

The Camp Store was rehoused September 1st and was set out in the best space ever, with easy access to viewing, collection and return of equipment ranging from walking boots and Kagoules to tents and stoves. Usage was quickly expanding. Now the storage means access is very difficult, robbing schools and organisations of an opportunity to be out in the great outdoors suitably equipped. They lost spacious office area with a secure storage room for Coaching Leeds informtion. Restricted desk/office space affects their ability to prepare for courses, conferences and presentations, thus affecting the smooth, efficient running of their service at particularly busy times. 

The sudden closure of West Park and subsequent move to Merrion and The Depot have had a significant impact on their service at a particularly important time.  

West Park: More popular than popularly thought

I asked a previous West Park worker about the 40% business. They replied thus:

Lettings / tenancies lost due to the mothballing:

- Pilates wanted to take the over Active Space (second gym) as tenants on a permanent basis. They offered £500 per month initially, which would have increased as business grew. All out of the window due to the mothballing.
- Bootcamp were using Active Space and were moved into smaller rooms when mothballing began. UK Indoor Fitness, who run Bootcamp, wanted to move all their activities to West Park - see their  website for a list of all the classes they do. Again, out of the window post-mothballing.
- Kickboxing - again, were using Active Space and were greatly frustrated to lose it - hence writing to their MP
- Yoga and belly dancing groups both wanted to move into the Active Space and were annoyed when they were moved into smaller rooms 
- Demand for rooms on CLYM [City of Leeds Youth Music Groups ] nights was such that the building could have been 100% full - however we were forced to turn away requests as all the ballet corridor rooms and the old NUT office were mothballed
- The 'no new tenants' rule was informal and flexible until Dec 2011 when the Talking Newspaper moved in, and then there was an official crackdown [don't know where from] 

All in all it seems the gyms were amongst the most in-demand parts of the building (doubtless more so if the changing rooms and showers could have been made functional again), so it seems insane to want to knock down that bit in particular.

I think the question that springs to mind is, what danger, suddenly on a half-term holiday, precipitated the need for a full closure and evacuation, down to the last glockenspiel, of the West Park Centre, when all this mothballing makes it clear that someone was leading us up to this point. 

How the Friday YAM activities are manging without West Park

One of YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic's members is also a committee member for the West Park Church, and so the Friday morning group of adults with Learning Difficulties was up and running again without a break - absolutely essential for any group of people. 

Mavis West [who put Leeds on the national stage for its innovative provision of music education to children and adults with Addtional/Special Needs] wrote this report about how they were coping:

Report of YAM activities November –December 2012   -February 2013

We have been fortunate in being able to hire West Park United Reform Church for Friday morning YAM Activities. Yes it costs just under £400 but if we have 50 customers attending @£2.50 each we are breaking near enough even (can be up to 30 -40 support workers/volunteers) + catering costs. We still feel we can bring outside leaders in every so often.

The customers are fine –we had 3 major concerts in December –Town Hall, Mencap Fayre and Betty’s Factory in Harrogate. All very successful. Transport is still a problem with some centres –last Friday one Driver had it written down to collect from West Park Centre. On the whole we are coping –The space is more limited at the church – we shall be having to replan workshops and collect instruments from round the city –the social side is much more limited but again we are coping.

We are unable to open the planning of YAM Activities to our customers and volunteers –this was proving to be an exciting way of building the confidence of the customers and volunteers and limits us having the ability to extend the work which has already proved to be so successful.

The main concern is the lack of a centre for us to work from –Instruments are all over the city –we have no designated storage space and it looks as though we may have to pay for storage after Easter.
The plus side is that we have had no reduction in the numbers attending on Fridays


A Tale of Two Buildings: West Park and Royal Park

I wrote this to the paper:

I am curious as to how these two miscarriages of natural justice have endured, the one for seven years and the other maybe at the beginning of its sentence of neglect.

Nice car park
As far as I can make out, the Leeds Council department of “Asset Management” has made a decision that providing a proper professional musical education to children and adults with special additional educational needs is pointless; that supporting Leeds Youth Opera, described by the Guardian as a “national treasure” is irrelevant; that offering rooms for most of Leeds principal orchestras [Leeds Symphony Orchestra and Leeds Festival Chorus, to name but two] to rehearse and to store their timpani etc is not important. [And all the rest!]

It took our pioneers in the Music Special/Additional Needs World [including our very own music educator, Mavis West and composer Jan Holstock] decades to persuade the world that children with Special Needs deserved equal access to a musical education, and eventually persuaded the Leeds Music Support Service to create the Department of Music for Children Special Needs. 

Nice gymnasia
And this department has gone from strength to strength. Any school wanting music for their children with Additional/Special Needs can book expertise and specialised equipment from the Music Special Needs/Inclusive Department from Leeds ArtForms Music Service. And any community group or parent wanting similar could apply to YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic, a charity working in beautiful harmony with the Music Service, sharing resources, sharing expert staff and, yes, sharing the space at the West Park Centre.

top foyer West Park
It was seven years earlier that the same council department mothballed the incredible Royal Park School building. Bad enough that the incompetent Education Leeds predicted a fall in population growth and four years later was adding onto the other primary schools in order to cope with the rise in population growth. But why oh why are children walking past this beautiful Victorian pillar of its community to reach the overcrowded other schools?

The community cries out for more school capacity, and for that building to bustling again with people; Royal Park School yearns to be used again.

West Park
So what is it about these two buildings that gives them the right to live on? Both West Park and Royal Park were built at a time when specialist workers were paid peanuts to build palaces. From the outside Royal Park is an elegant stately iconic building, totally in keeping with the surrounding architecture.  West Park, from the outside is no architectural beauty, but go inside and you’ll find offices, cupboards and storage spaces the envy of many a new building user this country over.

I suggest that people paid to manage assets recognise their value and respond to local demand. And, actually, if you want to hire the gamelan, or the resonance boards, or go ballroom dancing, or use the Sound and Light Room or put on any of the hundreds of concerts and events that you once could attend with free and easy parking and with disabled access, well you may have to wait.

Victoria Jaquiss FRSA [ex-West Park user, and ex-teacher, parent, governor Royal Park School]

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Using the West Park Centre - As Soon As Possible Please

On Friday - or maybe they will defer it - Council will decide upon one of the options offered for the West  Park Centre. We are trying to offer up all the facts. Here's another ex- West Park user's view:

Dear Councillors 
These are my initial thoughts after reading the report to the council meeting about the future of West Park:
great storage:gamelan, marimbas, more

I cannot reconcile the comments about 40% of the building not being used - what does this mean? 

I understood that the building had a weekly footfall of 2000 people and was one of the most used buildings in the city - even when some rooms were being mothballed - but not 40%.  Not only being used by all those on the list but also in regular use for staff training by NHS, Children's Services for CAF and Team Teach Training, head-teachers forums and many more.
To say Artforms has been re-housed at Merrion House and at City of Leeds is to totally misrepresent the vast work that this organisation does, misunderstanding the need for easily accessible instruments storage used on a daily basis for the effective delivery of lessons. 
Why are taking it all away?
By accessible I mean -  the ability to collect essential teaching equipment from storage areas on a daily/half daily basis with accessible loading, free car parking and available and close to hand for the admin team to update and administer for all the team's use.
For my team the new regime has meant that frequently used instruments and equipment have had to be  stored in people's homes. After emails and phone calls the equipment has to be loaded into cars and then swapped between staff in car parks such as Sainsbury's etc. This is not only inconvenient it eats up staff time, energy and petrol. We have gone from being a nationally recognised centre of excellence for our work with vulnerable children to appearing to be an amateur group of people who meet in cafes and car parks.
A few more for the users list:
Youth Opera - they had a huge costume store as well as weekly rehearsals.
In the week before it closed City Varieties had started to use the building. Not sure if it was for prop design or rehearsals.
Just some of Youth Opera's costumes
Special features of the building not mentioned
I haven't seen any mention of:
1.             The Gordon Parry Centre for children with SEND - with it's Sound and Light room along with dedicated Music therapy room, instrument library including Javanese Gamelan and resource library. It cost to have the Sound and LIght dismantled, the Music Therapy sessions have been temporarily re-housed at HEART.
2.             Nor the second performance space - the Rehearsal room. One of the amazing features of the building was the ability to house many large scale musical activities at the same time without major sound interference problems. I.E in Rehearsal Room, Main Hall and the 2 gyms.
The large number of toilets and the 1 disabled toilet plus 1 disabled changing room made it possible to run large scale events for as many as 300 children at the same time without serious queuing issues. 
emptying Room 5

ex-Sound and Light Room
Exhibition Space
The excellent foyer area led to a synergy where all these user groups could meet together informally and housed the Kiosk and had Exhibition Space.
Several art exhibitions have been hosted using foyer and classrooms - eg Travellers’, Irish Arts. ArtForms visual  Arts and Artemis displays.
A major feature of the centre is it's excellent car parks - we regularly need space for up to 10 minibuses, conferences can guarantee parking spaces (up to 80 – I think)
the shops at the Roundabout

nice toilets!
Plus the secure overnight parking used for: ArtForms Van, Opera North Van and Travellers’ Van.
Reduced Absenteeism
During last year I do remember the ArtForms Team being commended for having one of the lowest absenteeism rates in the council.
It is hard to say this was due to the building but I do know that many people liked the working  environment - although I don't deny they would have liked it more if they felt it had been kept in good repair and had a future.
re the decorations  - most  of the frequently used rooms had been recently redecorated by the caretaking staff. 
Why do many people like working there
I can only give my personal view
                The  outlook onto grass and the general environment made the building  calming and pleasant to work in.
specially designed steel
pan store
                Wide corridors, a feeling of space, good sized rooms with excellent and flexible storage. 
                The ability to walk into a room or hall and know that all the equipment that  you need is on hand for creating an imaginative and creative session cannot be overestimated. 
                The amazing hall which several times a year we were able to convert into an imaginary world for some of the most severely disabled children in the county to enjoy an interactive musical day out.
What has been frustrating about working there:
The knowledge that you cannot upgrade your facilities because of fear of being closed. 
Not being able to decorate or re-carpet or put up new lighting - because of the doubts about its future.
Not being able to apply for the funding to upgrade the building  - because of the doubts about its future.
Not being able to apply for grants to upgrade the outside facilities into proper playgrounds and a sensory garden that children can enjoy safely - even when such grants were available  - because of the doubts about its future.
Not being able to put in 2 lifts to make all the upstairs accessible  - because of the doubts about its future.
Not being able to have a full lighting rig in the hall - Ah yes - the electrics??