New hope for community centre

NEW initiatives to get plans for a much-needed new community centre for Bungay under way represent the best – and possibly last – chance to achieve the town’s goal.

That was the view this week as it was revealed that the new community centre steering committee has been offered a grant of �75,000, over three times the standard grant, by Communitybuilders (Cb), to take the plans forward and activate a feasibility study and businesses plan which should be completed by Christmas.

Martin Evans, chairman of the steering committee, was positive about the latest development, but is mindful of the fact that various schemes to replace the outdated building in Upper Olland Street have come to nothing over the past few years.

It is thought the community centre would cost �2m to build.

“We fully appreciate that there have been far too many false dawns in this exercise whereby Bungay residents have been repeatedly asked their opinions and plans have been displayed, only for the project to falter again and again,” he said.

“We are now attempting to progress the matter during one of the worst economic periods for decades. However, taking into account the state of the old hall, Bungay undoubtedly needs a new centre for the community and the steering committee feels that at last we have the best chance of achieving this goal.”

Christopher Reeve, rural community officer for the Community Forum based in Lowestoft, and a member of the Bungay Community Centre project team, was instrumental in getting the new initiative under way with a grant application to Communitybuilders, a �70m investment fund.

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It invests in the sustainability of multi-purpose, inclusive, community-led organisations, sometimes known as Community Anchors. It sent inspectors to Bungay on two occasions to hear all about Bungay’s plans for a new community centre on the old grammar school field, including community facilities, childcare provision and enterprise business offices.

“Based on their reports, Cb agreed to support us,” said Mr Evans. “To our surprise, instead of awarding us the standard �20,000 grant, they offered �75,000, plus 35 days of intensive business support.

“The latter is to be supplied by a London consultancy Coin Street and we have been working with them now on and off since August.

“Their feasibility study and business plan will be completed by Christmas when it goes before a Cb panel for adjudication. If they then decide to invest, we should really start motoring towards the new build for completion hopefully within 18 months.”

There was a warning this week that the present community centre could be forced to close before a new one is built should it lose its main tenant, the Beehive Nursery.

The town council planning committee on Monday backed a plan for a change of use of the former Bodywise gym in Rose Lane to premises for Beehive, which needs better facilities.

Mr Evans told the meeting that if it did move, the community centre could become unviable and have to close.