There are celebrations coming to Coulsdon, after the local community centre was handed a reprieve from a Brick by Brick-inspired demolition order.
“The year 2035 will see us celebrate our centenary, but we going to be celebrating this year too, the year that we got our future back,” Paul Ford, one of the centre’s trustees, told Inside Croydon.
The council-owned community centre was entangled in a convoluted Brick by Brick property deal involving two other sites in Coulsdon. The decision to abandon the proposal to demolish the much-loved centre on Barrie Close to make way for some money-spinning private flats was confirmed in the week before Christmas when Croydon Council agreed to extend the centre’s lease by another 25 years.
“It’s real,” Ford said. “Nothing to do with politics, just harsh financial reality actually taking hold.”
Brick by Brick’s “Coulsdon project” was, like so much of the council-owned failed house-builders’ schemes, doomed never to work.
Brick by Brick chief exec Colm Lacey had a pipe dream of finding a developer who was willing to put up the £2.5million to £3million to rebuild and refurbish Coulsdon’s old CALAT Centre, wait for the work to be done, wait for the Communuty Centre to transition across to the new premises, and then, and only then, get to demolish the existing centre off Chipstead Valley Road and build on it.
“It was never going to fly,” Ford said today.
“And the Community Centre Association pointed this out right at the beginning.”
It has been a five-year saga of uncertainty for the centre and the many local organisations which make great use of the venue, which has a wonderfully warm, village hall feel about it that you would expect of a building that has been serving local residents in 1935. Such community service considerations appeared to have been forgotten by the council when Jo Negrini was in charge at Fisher’s Folly while discredited council leader Tony Newman was pursuing his “anti-south of the borough” agenda.
“With the council needing money now, not later, selling off the CALAT site was an obvious move for them,” Ford said, “especially with the Community Centre having a lease that stopped them from just shutting us down and throwing us out on the streets.
“To be honest, I don’t think they ever really wanted to do that.”
Ford says that Steve Wingrave, the council’s head of assets and estate management, has instructed his legal team to draft a new 25-year lease, to run from the cessation of the existing lease. “So that’s the best part of 30 years more or less guaranteed,” Ford said.
“We’ll be checking the small print, looking for traps and loopholes, but Mr Wingrave has played with a pretty straight bat from the get-go, so we’re optimistic.
“We won’t rest easy until it’s signed, but it’s looking good at the moment.”
Coulsdon Community Centre is run by a not-for-profit community association and registered charity, with the centre used seven days a week by arts, leisure, sports, social and recreational groups.
As well as the more usual groups, such as pre-schoolers, keep-fit, badminton or short-mat bowls, there’s tai chi, a ballet academy and even pain management classes, which came in very useful for those who had to negotiate with the council over the centre’s future.
The council’s decision to extend the lease, according to Ford, “means that we can start applying for grant funding from various sources to properly upgrade the centre. Disabled access for the upper floor at last, improved toilet, kitchen and storage facilities for our users”.
“And,” he adds, “hold the council to account for the maintenance they’re legally obliged to undertake but have singularly failed to do over the last five years.
“Hopefully, 2022 is where it all changes.
“The sword hanging over our heads will be finally gone and we can look forward, making a real difference for the thousands of users we get each year.”
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