Community centres fear axe in Durham County Council cuts

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THE long-term future of some community centres across County Durham today hangs in the balance.

A funding pot of £2.15million has been put aside to invest in several centres as part of a two-year programme, which could also signal the end for some venues.

As part of the Durham County Council’s plan, a further £600,000 is to go into a support package to allow community groups to take control of facilities, with £280,000 ring-fenced for the next financial year to hand out in grants.

The proposals, which go before the authority’s cabinet next Wednesday, have been drafted following consultation on the 54 community rooms it manages and 66 centres already run by their communities, with more than 3,600 people having their say.

Further consideration will be given to the plans, with some centres getting cash, some transferred to a community group and others to remain open but go without investment.

Others could also be passed on to the community without investment or face closure and a number could be repaired and leased.

A list of 14 communal rooms, most linked to nearby housing, have been highlighted for closure.

Social landlords are being approached to discuss the possibility of taking on ownership of the spaces, which could free up £900,000 of the £2.15million destined to be reinvested in other community-managed buildings.

The council has said 40 different groups have voiced interest in taking on the responsibility for the venues, with more offers being welcome.

Assistant chief executive Lorraine O’Donnell said the council was taking a different approach to many authorities facing making savings by empowering communities to have their say.

She said: “The hard work starts here. If anyone is interested in supporting their local building, maybe volunteers at the moment, maybe they have some ideas on how it can keep going, there will be help to bring them into reality in the future.”

Parkside Community Centre, in Heathway, Seaham, is ranked first in the list for investment – Parkside People’s Centre, which is a short distance away, is among those to be transferred or closed.

Chairman of the community centre George Jane, said funds would be used to employ a centre manager, rather than any refurbishment of the building.

It has been without a manager since a worker in the post was moved on to another community project by the council.

The money it has coming in now goes to pay bills and cleaners, with a team of six volunteers running the facility.

Mr Jane said: “We don’t know how much money we could get, but we hope it’s enough for a centre manager, which would help the volunteers who have been running it since September.”

A full list of the categories is available on www.sunderlandecho.com

l For the full list of threatened community centres, go to sunderlandecho.com

Twitter: @EchoEastDurham