'Let down': Charity hits out at council over favoured 'levelling up' projects
WNC is accused of favouring vanity projects
By Natalie Bloomer
An organisation set up to manage eight of Northampton’s community centres says it feels ‘let down’ by West Northamptonshire Council’s proposed bid to the government’s Levelling Up fund.
Earlier this month NN Journal reported how the two unitary councils were facing a backlash over their favoured projects for the bid including one for Delapre Abbey in Northampton and another at Chester Farm just outside Wellingborough.
Now Community Spaces Northampton (CSN) has accused WNC of favouring ‘vanity projects’ over much needed investment in the county’s more deprived areas.
In 2012, CSN took over the management of eight community centres from Northampton Borough Council - a move which saved the authority £1m over seven years. However, the organisation says that in recent years they have repeatedly requested support to improve a number of the centres, which has not been forthcoming.
One of those is the Southfields community centre in the ‘left behind’ ward of Talavera on the eastern side of Northampton. CSN says the facility was handed over to them in a “poor state of repair” with no ceiling, an inadequate roof which frequently leaks and an outdated heating system that breaks down frequently and generates very high heating bills.
The community centre is also a single hall facility so is limited to what it can offer. Currently a pre-school uses it during the day which is much needed by the local community but means other groups are unable to use the space during those hours.
“We have had a number of discussions with the local police and voluntary sector organisations who would be very interested to use this space as a community hub, to offer drop-ins, carry out consultation with residents and for outreach youth work, but sadly in its current format this is not possible,” Alice Morgan, the strategic director at CSN, said.
To add to the problems, a community barn which was previously allocated to the centre, was sold off in 2014 to a developer and houses were built on the site. Issues with noise mean that many events and groups are no longer suitable for the centre.
“We are now restricted in which groups and bookings we can take due to noise issues - including churches, and late private events which help to generate essential trading income for us,” Morgan said.
In 2021, CSN put forward plans to West Northants Council which proposed in principle the sale of the Southfields centre site for development of new homes. It was suggested that the proceeds alongside additional funding from WNC, would allow the centre to be rebuilt with a café and a community hub to generate walking sessions, sports activities, community events and support services, youth activities, preschool, exercise and educational sessions.
“This proposal received in principle support. We met with senior council officers and cabinet members who agreed the centre is not fit for purpose for the local community. We were assured WNC were on board with our proposal, and that we would meet again imminently to discuss how the project may be funded. We were later informed verbally that funding for the project had been found.”
Local Lib Dem councillor and town mayor Dennis Meredith has also been very vocal about the need for funding. He has repeatedly highlighted at council meetings that his ward is ‘left behind’ and that Southfields desperately needs an improved community facility.
“I’m really frustrated that funding hasn’t been sorted for this. The centre needs to be knocked down and rebuilt. I’ve worked with CSN on the plans and we have a proposal that will really help people in my ward, the elderly and vulnerable will have a local space they can use.”
The local authority’s favoured projects to be put forward for the bid to the government’s Levelling Up fund are a £40m leisure and wellbeing hub in Weston Favell, an animal welfare centre at Moulton College, a cancer support centre at Northampton hospital and a community and wellbeing hub at Delapre Abbey.
“We feel let down by WNC having seen the Levelling Up funding plans. We have been in operation for 10 years and have taken knock backs and challenges through this time, but have survived and remain more determined than ever to provide for our local communities. We have been asking for support for numerous projects over the last three years,” Morgan said.
“It is absolutely integral that ‘left behind’ communities have access to shared space in the locality - a space to build connections in an increasingly disconnected world. A key point for us here is that this kind of offer really needs to be provided at a neighbourhood level.”
Councillors have argued that the Weston Favell project, which sits just inside the Talavera ward, is the biggest of the proposed schemes and will benefit local residents in that part of town. At a recent cabinet meeting it was also explained that the projects were chosen based on how closely they fit the government’s criteria.
CSN says many of those living in the ward will still be some distance from the hub.
“While many are noble projects, I feel so disappointed that WNC has focused on seemingly ‘vanity projects’. A number of organisations chosen, while doing a great job in their own right, are the high flyers who have access to numerous other funding streams, not the grassroots charities desperately trying to deliver the right service for those most in need. We understand Talavera works have not been included in the Levelling up plans, and it is suggested a new ‘Well-being’ Hub in Weston Favell will serve all living in the East of Northampton,” Morgan said.
“We believe this is just short sighted; communities require services delivered within the neighbourhood. To walk from Southfields to Weston Favell takes 33 minutes and from Rectory Farm 41 minutes for a physically fit person. We just do not believe people should be expected to make an over an hour round trip at a minimum to access support, and many simply will not do this – especially those with mobility issues, or large families as bus fare is simply unaffordable to many.”
A spokesperson for West Northamptonshire Council said:
“The Council is aware of the limitations of the facilities provided by the current Southfields Community Centre. It is considering community needs in the area as well as potential options for replacing or improving the building, but no decisions have yet been taken.”