I’m a bit puzzled by a recent press release from Walsall Council Labour Group relating to recent events in Brownhills, and I wonder if readers can help me with this as I’m not certain of the facts, and feel certain there will be people out there more clued-up than I.
The press release I reproduce below, interleaved with my comments.
2012-10-18 – Senior Citizens’ Club Celebrates Victory
Campaigners in Brownhills who once feared their social club would disappear as part of a proposed supermarket development are celebrating its rescue and refurbishment.
The Pier Street Club for Senior Citizens now has a renovated building after fighting to prevent it being demolished to make way for an extension to the nearby Tesco store.
These bits are certainly true, except for the extension bit. Two years ago in September 2010, there was a fairly heated battle over plans to demolish the well-loved and active centre to make way for the car park of the proposed new Tesco development. An article from the Birmingham Mail records that the fight was won, and the centre would be retained. Job Done.
Of course, the whole redevelopment project never happened anyway, and since appears to have been shelved by the retail giant in favour of a cosmetic tart-up of the existing store. Interestingly, there were rumours afoot at the time that it was the very same Senior Citizens who’d prevented the redevelopment with their protest. This was hogwash.
A vocal campaign by the community saved the day after the plans were ditched by Walsall council following public pressure.
They weren’t ditched by Walsall Council, they were ditched by Tesco. Walsall Council just prevaricated and then tried to cash in.
The social club has since reorganised itself and, following extensive discussions with council officers, marked the re-opening with a celebration dinner for members and invited guests.
This bit is troubling me: ‘Since then, the club has reorganised itself’ – has it? My understanding – and I could be wrong – is that it closed a long time ago due to loss of funding. The centre was originally built for pensioners as part of the original 1986 redevelopment of Brownhills, paid for by Hillards who then occupied what is now the Tesco store. The council then leased the Senior Citizens Group the facility back for a peppercorn rent of £2 a year.
I understood that largely, the centre was self-organising, and the club managed much of their own upkeep. It has been rumoured that the group ceased to operate due to funding being removed, but I’m unclear about the circumstances. It seems to have been standing unused for about 18 months. That was criminal.
Locals in Brownhills have recently noted the building being extensively renovated. Several wrote to ask me why, and what was going on.
Councillor Barbra Cassidy, who fought to save the centre and then to see it re-open said: “It was wonderful for me and my fellow councillor Steve Wade to be invited to this special evening.
“Everyone in Brownhills supported saving this building and the activities it laid on. It took a lot of negotiating, but we are pleased to say it has been retained for use by the local community in the evenings and over weekends. Steve and I give our heartfelt thanks to those officers at the council who supported the group so wonderfully and hope that the club flourishes in the years to come.”
The Councillors are quite correct. Everyone in Brownhills was against the demolition – and therefore closure of the club. So what exactly went wrong?
When the demolition was mooted, Walsall Council suggested an alternative would see rooms made available in Knaves Court for the club instead, and this was rightly rejected. This site was, after all, built solely for the old folks to use.
The building has since been completely renovated and club members John Birchly and Jamie Warren added their own touch by building a skittle alley. During the day it is used by the council’s adult social services department.
Firstly, well done to John and Jamie for their work – that’s in no way in question, and I salute the whole club for their dedication and campaigning spirit.
But hang on, Walsall Council are using it for day service, and are effectively allowing the club to use rooms at evenings and weekends? How is that within the spirit of the original use? This doesn’t seem like a victory to me, it seems like the commandeering of a community facility before throwing a bone back to the community.
This is effectively the Knaves Court solution, with the building they fought to save still standing. How does that equate to a win? Why are the Labour group effectively bolstering what was the Tory position? None of this makes sense.
I’d really like to know the details of this story, and I emphasise I may well have it wrong. It’s just that I remember the club operating in the daytime, offering tea and companionship, and it always seemed popular. With the location, I’d tenure many wouldn’t fancy visiting at night. I’m most perplexed by the whole situation.
To any members of the club reading this, I welcome your input, and certainly wish you well. I’m happy to offer you full support in advertising your events and appeals here anytime you like. I appreciate the importance of your club, and I’m glad you’re up and running again. The community spirit engendered in such endeavours is valuable and not to be underestimated, as is the fighting spirit of the Councillors involved.
I’m just a bit confused. It’s all most perplexing.
The club is now seeking to recruit new members and any over 50s wishing to join should contact Jackie Warren on 07949 723877.
Crikey, I’ll be old enough to join myself, soon…