Houghton Regis Community Centre: Have Your Say Over Future Use

Tracey McMahon, dressed as a mushroom, delivers petition to CBC Executive

Some ten weeks ago a Partnership Committee in Houghton Regis was told without any consultation by a CBC official that the Community Centre in Bedford Square was going to be used for educational uses and this would mean some existing users would be displaced from the building. Watch Video:

This week a petition was received by the Executive Committee at Central Bedfordshire Council (Tuesday). 

Petition: “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.” 

Presenting the petition was local resident, Tracey McMahon, who concluded that Houghton Regis is bottom of the pile when it comes to CBC:

Former Parkside CBC councillor, Dr Rita Egan also addressed the committee:

Ahead of the meeting, Save Houghton Regis Community Centre (Facebook Page) spelt out the campaign, saying, “Community centres are important hubs across the country that give people an opportunity to socialise, learn and access key services. 

“Some argue that these centres aren’t seen as desirable places to spend time – but they serve a vital function in communities across the country. De-stigmatising community centres and promoting the incredible work they do to bring people together will help invigorate and refresh the sector. The more people who use, contribute to and donate money towards community centres, the more people can be helped. 

“Now more than ever, we’re living in challenging times that require us all to pull together and offer help. Here are just 10 reasons why community centres are vital hubs, providing a much-needed service for individuals across the country…

1. Unites a community
This one’s obvious, but perhaps the most important. 
The clue is in the name – community centres are all about providing a place for the community to connect and socialise. They’re multi-purpose hubs that offer different things for different people. 
Whether the community centre is religious in nature or has been created to provide support to a specific section of the community, it undoubtedly connects people from all walks of life. Community centres demonstrate how wonderfully we can all work together. Race, age, gender, class, education and other protected characteristics should not be noticed in a community centre. People are valued for their own individuality and socialise together no matter what. 
Community centres also offer family and friends the chance to really connect with one another and take part in an activity together. If a family unit rarely spends quality time together, then attending a weekly class could be perfect. As a bonus it’s also a great way to meet other families within the community.
2. Provides volunteer opportunities
There are many reasons why people volunteer. Some want the opportunity to give back and do great things (kindness is good for our health, after all). Others require a break from day-to-day life and find solace in volunteering. There’s always new people to meet, new skills to learn and activities to take part in. It gives people a chance to build their confidence and feel part of a team. 
Of course, one of the main reasons people volunteer is to build their skill sets and employability. Community centres offer individuals a great opportunity to enhance their CV and gain vital knowledge they need to take with them into the world of work. 

3. Support for community projects
Community centres bring people together to work on wider community projects, such as organising clean-ups or working on improving a gardening space. 
It’s not all about what goes on within four walls. Community centres outreach to the wider community and work to improve the town, city and overall local environment for everyone. 

4. Combating loneliness
Community centres provide a vital place to visit for older members of the community, or people who feel isolated from those around them. Studies show almost a fifth of the population feels lonely always or often. Having a place to visit regularly is vital for many people. It provides routine, something to look forward to and new opportunities. 
Some centres fundraise for trips and excursions for their members. This offers another opportunity for people to see new places and make friends no matter their age or background. 

5. Positively impacts the lives of younger people
Youths must have a safe space to visit and take part in new activities. Community centres provide classes and events such as physical, creative or social activities. This programme offers countless opportunities for young people to make friends and learn new skills. Giving the younger generation a healthy outlet for their energy will prevent anti-social behaviour and nurture the individual’s most positive attributes instead.
6. Promotes healthy living
Many community centres offer physical activities. Walking clubs and fitness classes tailored to various age groups provides the whole community with a reason to get out and get healthy. 
Prioritising physical fitness is key, but not everyone wants to join a gym or go to a demanding sports class. Community centres put socialising at the heart of everything it does – making fitness fun. Some centres are even promoting nutritional health by offering cooking classes! 

7. Encourages creativity and culture
Arts and crafts classes and other cultural activities are key to encouraging new members of the community to get involved. The more opportunities, the more people who come along. 
Community centres develop a culture of wellbeing across social, mental and physical health. This will improve the overall health of the community, taking pressure off social services and other facilities. 

8. Shares valuable information
If an individual wants to know ‘what’s on’, they’d turn to their local community centre for information. They provide valuable information on events, programmes and other activities going on in the community. From local am-dram productions to community galas, you can bet all you need to know can be found from your local community centre or village hall. 
Guides, brochures, flyers, newsletters – you name it, your community centre will have it. Stay connected with what’s going on in your town or city. 
You can also find wider resources from your local community centre. The volunteers and staff will be able to signpost individuals to helpful websites or facilities, such as mental health organisations or government advice. 

9. Offers educational opportunities
Many community centres still offer basic adult education opportunities, as well as developmental opportunities (such as dance classes or crafts). A safe space to learn a new skill and further an individual’s education is a fantastic resource. 
Often centres host a nursery or preschools, too. This allows the building to be put to great use during the day, ready for evening classes and activities. 
This perfectly demonstrates the impact community centres have on every life stage of the community, from nurseries right through to adult education and activities for the elderly. 

10. Provides unique and much-needed facilities
Individuals often find hiring facilities prohibitively costly. People are able to organise social and family events by hiring out community centre spaces. Other voluntary groups and organisations are also able to hire out space on a more regular, consistent basis. This service is invaluable for people who want to organise social activities and need a base in which to do this. Yet again, community centres prove invaluable. 

Cllr Pat Hamill, CBC, Tithe Farm commented on Tuesday 12 October, citing concerns that some places being used temporarily were not suitable,  “The sorry mess continues. I have just come from the Visitors Centre [in Houghton Hall Park] after not finding a table to sit on so I expected to see the other room being opened up next door. I was told it was for the Park Committee to hold their meetings with one round table on show and a wheelbarrow. Next to that room was Time-2-Connect and there is a lack of storage in this place. They cannot use the Community Centre because it has been given away without any consultation.

“The Craft Cafe will be using the same room after being kicked out of the Community Centre and so those the most vulnerable may not be mobile enough to walk to the Visitors Centre. It is not on a bus route. A community Centre is for residents to meet up with each other when similar interests are on offer.  The Visitor Centre cannot cope because it is not big enough. 

“What a mess CBC has made of our town. We still have a long way to climb to turn everything that affects us all around.”

Cllr Toni Ryan, CBC, Parkside also commented Tuesday, “Today I submitted a statement to the Council's Executive Committee who run the Council. This matter is to be deferred and a full investigation as to who is at fault for the closure.

“The Council's Leadership has apologised for the lack of consultation that led to the eviction of the Houghton Regis community from its own centre. They have agreed that the Council's communication was poor.

“Council officers have now stated that this could be a temporary measure, and the centre will potentially be given back to our community (rightly so) after a year.

“It is inexcusable to me that we will be pushing young people, some with learning and emotional needs, from pillar to post, because the Council can't get its act together and deliver education provision where it's most needed. In addition, it's unacceptable to put unnecessary processes in place to switch from the Houghton Hub to other providers should the Hub prove unsuitable. I demand that the Executive member of Children Services bring forward a 5-year plan that accommodates the needs [of those] who use the service and make sure strong contingency plans are in place. And Central Bedfordshire sees good sense and return the centre to the community it serves.” 

Official Consultation Begins

Central Bedfordshire Council has now officially launched a consultation on the future use of Bedford Square Community Centre in Houghton Regis.

CBC say that the venue is currently being used to provide education for young people with special educational needs in the daytime, and by community groups during evenings and weekends and school holidays. 

They say this temporary arrangement was put into place urgently after a previous education provider went into administration over the summer, leaving vulnerable learners without a place to learn.  

The Council has now said it wants to hear feedback on the proposed long-term arrangements. It is the Council's preference that the venue continues to be used to provide educational support for young people with special educational needs whilst still being available for community use in the evenings, weekends and school holidays. 

Cllr Ghent, the Executive Member for Housing and Assets, has said in a statement issued by the Council, Tuesday, “The community centre in Bedford Square has provided a vital lifeline for vulnerable young people who would have otherwise been left without anywhere to learn. I know some people have been concerned that this would mean the Centre is no longer available for community use – that’s not the case. The centre was previously underused and many of the previous users are continuing to use the community centre in the evenings or weekends.  

“The Council has to balance the competing needs of different communities and vulnerable groups. We know that providing continuity and consistency to vulnerable young people is hugely important and so is having access to community space for local residents to use. 

“Our analysis shows there are a number of other facilities available nearby the Community Centre that is also available for hire, as well as a new space soon to open at All Saints View, and we believe there is sufficient community space locally that we can accommodate the education provision in the Centre and meet the needs of the community for community space.  

“Before we make a decision on this, we want to hear local residents’ views on this proposal.” 

The consultation is open until Wednesday 8 December. Find out more about the proposals, and have your say. 

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