DEVOTED volunteers have been left devastated that a popular community centre is being forced to close.
For more than three decades, Newbottle and District Community Centre has been used by people in the area for a range of classes and events.
But after a building inspection declared it unsafe for use, the centre has been locked and is shutting for good tomorrow.
Derek Hampton, chairman of the centre since 1997, said that a disagreement over the repairs with the council has been ongoing for many years but no resolution has ever been reached.
Members are distraught about the closure of the centre, which they say is a huge part of their lives.
Mr Hampton said: “We are so passionate about the place. We just try to keep it going all the time.
“Originally we were asked for our own houses to be put down as a guarantee on the building but we are only volunteers for the centre.
“To me it is a community building so it should be kept open for the community to use whatever the cost or charge.
“It’s very sad as all the groups that use it will have to clear their stuff out but we have no other hall for general use within miles of where we are.
“No one has said to us what we can do if it does close.
“When I hand over the keys we don’t know if someone will just move in and take it over.”
The disagreement between the association and the council centres around the repairs and who is responsible for completing them.
Coun Mel Speding, cabinet secretary of Sunderland City Council, said: “Following a review in 1997, the association was designated as self-supporting and offered lease terms which included responsibility for maintenance and repair works.
“The council re-inspected the building in September 2011 and its condition has deteriorated to such an extent that there are health and safety issues which require its immediate closure.
“We have offered support to the association over the last 13 years towards exploring new funding and further opportunities for its membership but its trustees have not taken up our offers of support.
“The council is seeking repossession of the building and will be making a decision on the future of the building in the upcoming weeks.
“No decisions have been made with regard to any proposed uses on the property.”
In 2003, the council wrote a letter stating “an inspection and essential repairs” would be carried out, but it is claimed this never took place.
When the Echo asked the council about this letter, it declined to comment.