Volunteers need help, not hindrance, to run facilities

Craig Simmons, Oxford City Council deputy Green group leader

Craig Simmons, Oxford City Council deputy Green group leader

First published in News

In June, Oxford City Council officers told East Oxford Community Association to leave the community centre on the corner of Princes Street because of concerns about the way it was being run.

Meanwhile the city council is trying to move all community associations in Oxford on to new short leases, which has been controversial.

With discussions between the two parties ongoing, city councillor for St Mary’s and deputy leader of the Green group Craig Simmons says why he thinks the authority has been too heavy-handed.

Oxford Mail:

  • East Oxford Community Centre

Our view was that Oxford City Council should never have issued the eviction notice because East Oxford Community Association is a group of volunteers and they need support to help them manage the community centre better.

There are individuals involved in the community association who are very dedicated to the centre and they are in the majority.

The council should allow them to continue to occupy the premises but give them dedicated officer support.

Oxford Mail:

  • The users of East Oxford Community Centre, centre, include the Womanity women’s festival

The situation there is like any community centre run by volunteers: it has its ups and downs because it depends on people who volunteer their time and the skills of those involved.

All of Oxford’s community centres, and not just East Oxford, have their problems.

Oxford’s community centres used to have dedicated officer support, but it was withdrawn. The council should have intervened earlier and what happened was that when it did intervene, it just criticised the community association rather than offer them help.

They told them what to do and gave them an action plan that was always destined to fail because the community association didn’t have the resources to deliver.

Oxford Mail:

  • The Cowley Cotton Club dance group uses the centre

What the community association needs is resources and someone to help them.

I am extremely concerned that the city council has had plans for the community centre for some time and that the council is using this to make changes which the community as a whole has resisted.

Development at the back of the community centre has been mooted for some time.

There is no signed lease at the moment and the city council wants to move its community centres on to short leases, but the problem with short leases is that you cannot get funding.

Oxford Mail:

  • Oxford Green Print ethical printing co-operative has also used the centre

That has always been the argument from all of the community associations and the late Bill Baker was very vocal about this as part of the Oxford Federation of Community Associations and as a former Labour councillor.

East Oxford Community Association has a lease at the moment – and, of course, they need a lease – but long leases are much more sensible because community associations need more stability. I don’t think there is any question about that.

It is the terms of the lease that the city council is seeking to change that I object to and the main one is the length of time it lasts for.

My worry is that if the council takes over the running of East Oxford Community Centre then it will be turned into a hall for rent rather than a community centre, which is what I believe has happened to other centres in Oxford.

Oxford Mail:

  • Fusion Arts have also used the East Oxford Community Centre

The replacement for the Cowley Community Centre is just going to be a room for rent, and that is a direction I very much resist.

We want community associations to be at the heart of their community and not just rooms which the city council rents out.

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