e-petition to Save Houghton Regis Community Centre



  • Community groups using the Houghton Regis Community Centre at Bedford Square are horrified to discover that they are no longer welcome.

Last month's surprise announcement was made by a Central Bedfordshire Council officer at a meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council and Houghton Regis Town Council (Town Partnership Committee) on 20 July. And it seemed that the representatives of Houghton Regis people, the CBC and Town councillors, may not have known anything about this until just a few days prior to the announcement.



Town Partnership Committee - Announcement & Reaction



In the video the officer addresses the committee saying that they had been looking at usages made of the Community Centre which had seemed low, and so they had worked with colleagues in other CBC departments like education to see what use they could make of the Centre building. He said that they will contact the main current users of the centre over the coming week and help them find other community buildings that they could use instead. The officers had felt that it was a real opportunity to use with the Central Bedfordshire College. He apologised for any slow communications.

Paraphrased comments:

Cllr Pat Hamill said he was very very disappointed. He felt he had been left out of the decision-making process and that [the officers] should have consulted with all the councillors beforehand. He said [the officers] had not listened to the community, there was no replacement for the burnt down hall over the Co-op (burnt in 2006). This was a bad news story, he said, and he felt ignored.

Cllr David Jones: wanted to know how long this situation would continue.


Cllr Ken Wattingham: wanted to know how long before users were kicked out.

Cllr Susan Goodchild: it had come as a great shock in her inbox on a Friday. She said this was an important asset for Houghton Regis. And she wanted to know if [the officers] making the decisions had experienced any of the joy of the centre's events? The space in Houghton Hall park centre was very limited. I just can't believe it. Cllr Goodchild was critical of the decision.

Cllr Tracey McMahon: I am absolutely furious. Your figures are wrong. It's down to poor poor management. There's no one to contact [at CBC] no wonder you're losing money. This is the only space available for the residents in Houghton Regis. We cannot afford to be moving out. Is it going to be changed in name from a 'community centre' to an 'education centre'. We've had no input to this whatsoever. I think you're going to have a fight on your hands, here, ladies and gentlemen.

The CBC officer said he would take the councillors comments on board and discuss them with his colleagues. He had thought the decision made would have been good for Houghton Regis. He said the Youth Club would continue to operate from the Bedford Square Community Centre, and they would work with core users to help them to relocate. Central Bedfordshire College would be paying for rates and running costs, with Children's Services paying other costs.

Cllr Susan Goodchild: this decision will tear the heart out of this community.

Cllr Ken Wattingham: Did you look at other places, in Dunstable, you're kicking local groups out with 6 weeks notice.

Cllr Pat Hamill: We need to be listened to.

e-Petition

A petition has been created to request a reverse of that decision:

The e-petition reads, “Reverse the arbitrary decision by officers and executive members to change the use of Houghton Regis Community Centre to that of a learning provision, with no consultation from stakeholders, user groups, community, or local councillors, effectively closing the centre to the public, evicting the clubs that use the facility, and forcing them to fold. Contrary to CBC's Statement of Community Involvement (updated June 2020), and in violation of the Equality Act 2010.”


The petition was started on 19 August 2021 and runs until 24 September 2021.

  • Bedford Square Community Centre, Houghton Regis, was listed as an 'Asset of community value' on 12/02/2016, but that listing expired on 12/02/2021 (see reference).

'Bombshell'

Following the announcement on 20 July, town councillor, Cllr Tracey McMahon wrote on her public Facebook group, Community Independent Alliance ............CIA. “With the bombshell of last night's announcement that Central Bedfordshire Council are closing the only Community Centre in Houghton Regis and evicting all of the community and volunteer groups that operate out of it, could I please ask for any clubs and groups that are affected to contact me please, just so that we can begin to work together to press CBC to reverse this ludicrous, short-sighted, undemocratic and frankly cruel decision.  

“A similar situation arose several years ago when they tried to close our leisure centre, drained our pool of water, forced our kids to traipse over to neighbouring towns for their swimming lessons, and tried to rip the heart out of our community.  Our community worked incredibly hard to revitalise the centre by developing a wide range of activities and clubs across the age ranges, to be inclusive of everyone in our town, and this is just a slap in the face for Houghton Regis.  I AM FURIOUS!  I'm so done with having to keep complaining and keep fighting, but we're not going to take this laying down.  Let's get ourselves together and fight this thing.  #savehoughtonregiscommunitycentre”

CBC Statement dated 10 Sept 2021

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokesperson said: “We are not closing the Community Centre in Bedford Square. We have agreed for the Centre to be used on a temporary basis to provide education for 50 young people with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND). There was an urgent need to find a suitable venue for September following the financial collapse of the previous provider. The Community Centre continues to be available for other community use in the evening, weekends and school holidays and we have contacted all of the previous users of the Centre to confirm their use of the Centre and found alternative facilities for all users where necessary.

“We will consult on the long-term use of the Centre in the coming months.”

Footnote:

Houghton Regis town councillor, Susan Thorne is co-chair of Houghton Regis Craft & Coffee that has met for several years in Bedford Square Community Centre. As of 10 September 2021, she has not had any communication from Central Bedfordshire Council about being asked to move from the Centre. She said, “We have a lot of equipment still stored in Bedford Square, but I haven't been asked to move it. A lady from BRCC is helping us to relocate to a room in Houghton Hall Park.”




Protest

“The community, the groups, the users, the stakeholders, our councillors - none of us have had any opportunity of any sort to demonstrate our concerns on any official platform or forum, talk with CBC to find alternative solutions, or offer advice, because there has been NO CONSULTATION AND NO COMMUNICATION.” (reference)



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