What’s the Point of the West Park Centre?
An Unintended City-wide Arts Centre
My Lord Mayor and Fellow Councillors
Even though you are not discussing it today, I would to thank you for giving me the opportunity to present the case for getting the West Park Centre up and running again as soon as possible. I am speaking only on behalf of the charities and community groups.
I’d like to make 5 points:
1. On November 5th 2012 100 or so of us turned up as usual for work there only to be called into an extra-ordinary meeting. Here, in the main hall we were told that the Centre’s electrics had been condemned, and we were to pack enough equipment to last 2 months, and leave. The Council groups were immediately given a previously mothballed room in Merrion House.
Then we were asked to pack everything ; pack 20 years worth of bags, filing cabinets, gamelan, resonance boards, cupboardfuls of costumes, and we were given 3 days to do it in. Then we got 3 weeks.
And we were 30 plus displaced organisations amounting to 2000 or so regular users, including of course all the council services and then all the charities, who had bumped along in harmony with each other for decades, and now, who hardly or never meet at all.
It’s fair to say that we were taken aback the manner of the “temporary closure” – One minute the electrics needed fixing; the next minute there was a consultation on the building’s future. Not only were we asked to leave with nowhere, or nowhere suitable to go, but six months later we are still operating from our garages and spare rooms.
2.Numbers and types of people affected, We feel that the numbers of users, and how much the centre was in demand was under-estimated. The last report talks about underuse, not so. The place was buzzing from morning till late evening. What was lovely about West Park, and what made it so special was the combinations of arts and sports, education and leisure, adults and children, disabled and able-bodied. Groups included the Travellers Education Service, children and adults with Special/Additional Needs, unions, self-help groups eg gamblers etc anonymous. And all day Sunday, every Sunday the Church filled it. Many groups of vulnerable people, And all surrounding the wonderful foyer for all the serependitious meetings.
3.The practical building design – At the end of three spurs,, and in the middle - four good performance spaces [the former gyms, the Rehearsal Room, studio and the Main Hall] the main hall’s acoustics are good, in fact they were recently improved. Many, many toilets, including disabled adapted. YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic and ArtForms Music Service installed multi sensory classroom. [result of ten years planning taken down in a morning] Exceptional and absolutely vital storage – PE equipment, the orchestra’s shared instruments, the Opera’s costume cupboards. Carpark to fit a 100 piece orchestra or a fleet of minibuses for the disabled, with disabled access.
4.West Park serves as a base for city-wide and regional work, a happy accident, but its geography, near Leeds ringroad, on best bus routes [1, 56, 96], Players come from as far away as Scarborough for the orchestras, and from Sheffield for YAMSEN. Has open aspect surrounded by open spaces and playing fields, gives an extra feeling of security, convenient for shops.
5.West Park the Accidental Inclusive Arts Centre didn’t start as a plan. It just grew.– 25 years plus in the making, groups developing links. The Music Service and the Music charities worked together; Northern ballet sent 2 dancers to the YAMSEN singalong; Orchestras shared timpani; Etc.
The council petition that we ran collected over 500 signatures in the 2 weeks that it was live. There are organisations still unplaced or not satisfactorily placed. There are children and adults with Special Needs who are missing their regular rehearsals; there are orchestras missing the hall, the space, the storage – all the reasons they chose West Park in the first place.
I am here on behalf all the groups, and on behalf of people who can’t speak for themselves. We need the £170,000 or whatever it takes spending on the electrics, and we need to get back into the building, which, until this year, never suffered from the regular petty vandalism that is beginning to appear.
The important thing is for the basic repairs to be done in order to enable us to get back into the West Park Centre, and then we can start to plan for the future and then have the debate whether to be a CIC, or remain inside the council.