Monday, 30 September 2013

Centre's Users Still Homeless

Thanks to Yorkshire Evening Post:
YEP Letters: September 30

I ATTENDED Scrutiny Board as a witness to the senselessness of the closure of the West Park Centre. No rolling stones, here at West Park, we had gathered moss. From indie video companies and talking newspapers for the blind, to 100- strong orchestras and choirs.
Here all the synergy that you ever wish you could plan for had already happened. Forty odd permanent centre users filled the place up every week, Plus all the regular bookings - council training courses in child-protection, first aid etc.
One councillor said he had visited the centre twice, and once, he had to step over a puddle to get in.
Twice! What was my 16 years’ experience against someone who had visited the place twice! Why did the orchestras come 
back week after week for decades?
But, under the West Park floor boards was the Wormtail of an electric system hissing its evil way around, and every so often they would open the grates and say, ooo, that needs fixing, and close the grates again.
Perhaps to keep us off the topic the spokesperson from Asset Management seemed to filibuster her way through 20 minutes including mentioning that she had been off sick for a while.
Why? They condemned the person who spared Leeds’ blushes by telling the Russians to go ahead with their event, when anyone might have made the same decision.
What they did not do at Scrutiny was consider the fate of the displaced users, still homeless 10 months later: and that organisations only given half a loaf would eventually starve; that charities with no base for so long would eventually go into melt down.

Victoria Jaquiss FRSA, YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic, West Park Centre Campaign Group

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Thanks to Jonathon Brown for this article on Tuesday 3 September 2013

Axe blow that left Leeds centre’s charities reeling in shock

The West Park Centre.
The West Park Centre.
Nine months after the dramatic closure of a hub for arts groups and charities in north west Leeds, the search for answers continues as the aftershocks of its loss are felt. Jonathan Brown reports.

As demolition looms over a once buzzing centre for the arts, questions still remain over the controversial closure of the West Park Centre.
After it closed as West Park County Secondary School in 1989, the building became an unorthodox but fitting home to dozens of Leeds’s most creative and artistic groups and charities.
Thousands of the city’s most talented groups have roots there and it provided a base for the likes of Opera North and the Northern Ballet.
Years of rumours of impending closure and numerous campaigns had kept it open until it was hastily closed in November because of electrical problems.
Yet, the following day, a party attended by the then Lord Mayor of Leeds, Coun Ann Castle, was held at the site.
The swift closure, which was carried out within 24 hours of officers being alerted to the building’s safety, left several arts groups and charities effectively homeless.
Nine months on, the Yorkshire Association for Music and Special Educational Needs (YAMSEN) is just one of a group of organisations without a place to call home and deliver services.
Diane Paterson, secretary of YAMSEN, a charity that supports music groups for disabled adults and children, said: “It’s been devastating.
“We won’t let things stop, we have carried on as that’s the nature of the group of people we have here.
“When somebody does that to you and pulls the plug on you – you can’t plan for that.
“None of the charities are the sort of people that will be put off by this, they are just working ten times as hard and getting more stressed.”
Its thousands of users come from all over the region to use the 34-year-old charity’s specialist equipment – much of which is now inaccessible and based in storage units and schools across the city.
YAMSEN spent thousands of pounds of grant money on an Indonesian gamelan instrument, which was handmade in Java, to help with sensory sessions in 2008, while they installed an advanced sound and light room at the West Park Centre. Both have ended up dismantled in storage as a result of the closure.
Victoria Jaquiss, vice chair at YAMSEN, said: “I think it makes Leeds look stupid, we have a big new arena so we are catering for the top end but we do not cater for the people that have given their evenings away for free.”
Elsewhere Fiona Kirkby, choir coordinator at the celebrated 150-piece Leeds Festival Chorus, says the group was left homeless three weeks before it was due to perform in the council-organised Leeds International Concert Season.
Now based at St Chad’s Parish Church, in Headingley, the choir is having to cope without the space it needs.
Fiona, who has worked with the choir for 30 years, said: “We are resourceful people so we will try and keep on going but we are facing uncertain times.”
Groups based at the centre were initially told it would close temporarily for four months, while the associated costs and work to bring it back into use were assessed.
In January councillors were told that emergency work on the West Park Centre’s electrical and hot and cold water systems, would cost more than £930,000.
Lorraine Cowburn is a musician and project manager with the Musical Arc charity, which was moved to Meanwood Community Centre within four days of the West Park Centre’s closure.
Following the outcry surrounding its closure, the circumstances and processes behind it will be discussed by the council’s sustainable economy and culture scrutiny board on September 17.
Lorraine, who plans to attend the meeting, said: “It’s like rehousing a family in different houses, it doesn’t work and that community of people that formed the West Park Centre happened by accident over the years. It ended up being an arts centre and that’s what’s been lost.”
The council’s executive board agreed to demolish the centre in July, having agreed to release £800,000 from the sale of the land to build a new community centre or invest in existing buildings to aid some of the centre’s former users if needed.
No date for the West Park Centre’s demolition has yet been set.
It is thought the land is worth around £2m and it is suggested it could be developed for housing or a free school, though further assurances are being sought over the council’s plans to continue to help former users.
Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said: “The West Park Centre has been a popular and vital cultural and community hub for many years and it is simply not acceptable that this important role comes to an end, especially when there simply are not adequate replacement facilities for the organisations who used the centre or the local community.”
Coun Judith Chapman (Lib Dem, Weetwood) described the closure of the centre as the “end of an era”. She said: “It’s putting a bit of strain on all the area’s other venues.
“People have lost this facility which is a terrible shame and also it was used for community purposes as well and that has gone.”
Various charities and organisations formerly based at the centre are working from home, halls, community centres and scout huts.
A council spokeswoman said: “We have already ensured that the great majority of groups have been re-located to other locations and we will be working with any other groups that used the centre to help them find new permanent locations.”
The spokeswoman added: “A great deal of work has taken place since the West Park Centre was closed in November to determine the best option for the site and the centre. We have listened to a wide range of views and considered all possible options.”

Shambles that will now see centre shut its doors for good

YEP Says (August 7): Shambles that will now see centre shut its doors for good

Those connected with the West Park Centre have every right to feel aggrieved by the manner of its passing.

The outcome they have feared since its sudden closure last November has now been confirmed with the council’s executive board rejecting calls for the decision to be subjected to further scrutiny.
It means the community centre, one of the busiest in Leeds, will now be demolished. The official reason is that the cost of carrying out necessary repairs had become too costly.
Campaigners, however, point to the fact that the site was listed as one of several to be sold off for housing by the council as far back as 2009.
It was subsequently taken off that list, but users say that Education Leeds’s gradual withdrawal of classes from the building created a financial problem from which it has never recovered.
Though the council insists that the decision to bulldoze the West Park Centre was simply down to the unaffordable cost of maintenance, others remain unconvinced.
While £800,000 from the sale of the land has been promised as a contribution to building a replacement, some may think campaigners are entitled to be cynical about how the centre’s fate was sealed.
It is certainly hard to disagree with Weetwood councillor Judith Chapman when she says the council’s handling of this saga has been “utterly shambolic”.

‘Controversial’ centre set for wrecking ball

  Thanks to Laura Bowyer of the Yorkshire Evening Post for this article in August.

‘Controversial’ centre set for wrecking ball

West Park Centre, Leeds
West Park Centre, Leeds

CAMPAIGNERS HAVE failed to save a community centre dubbed “the jewel in Leeds’ crown” from the wrecking ball.

Members of Leeds City Council’s executive board agreed to demolish the West Park Centre last month.
They agreed to release £800,000 from the sale of the land to build a new community facility or invest in existing buildings.
Campaigners called for the decision to be scrutinised by the council’s sustainable economy and culture scrutiny board.
Despite hearing from residents and councillors opposing demolition, the panel agreed to release the decision - meaning the building will be demolished.
Councillor Judith Chapman (Lib Dem, Weetwood) said following the meeting: “I’m deeply disappointed that despite the impassioned pleased of residents and West Park Centre users, board members agreed to proceed with demolition.
“The council’s handling of this whole sorry saga has been utterly shambolic from the start.”
The centre’s closure hit the headlines last year after it was closed in November because of ‘hazardous’ electrics.
Yet, the following day, a party attended by the then Lord Mayor of Leeds, councillor Ann Castle, was held at the site.
Campaigner Victoria Jaquiss said it was “a jewel in Leeds’ crown” and it had been home to various groups including YAMSEN, a charity that supports music groups for disabled adults and children.
Martin Farrington, director of development, said: “Members of the executive board determined they wouldn’t support the level of investment required to bring the building back into use.
“We acknowledge West Park Centre is a very valued facility.”
A inquiry will be held in November examining the decision to demolish the centre.