Community centres in South Tyneside are facing the axe as part of a money-saving exercise.
Council leader Iain Malcolm, head of cash-strapped South Tyneside Council, has authorised a review of the venues, with officers told to identify those which could survive without a subsidy, those which could be run by other organisations and those which are not viable.
The review could mean a major blow to the thousands of residents and community groups which use centres across the borough for a wide range of activities.
Yesterday, a meeting of centre managers was called, where they were told they will have to find their own funding if they want to stay open.
Those that council officers believe will not survive on their own could be closed.
Coun Malcolm has asked officers to look at the centres likely to produce a viable business plan, those that will struggle –and, if there is scope to allow other organisations to bid to run the centre – and those that are not viable.
Once the community centres are gone there is no bringing them back.Centre employee
The report will be submitted with the council’s cabinet making the decision on the future of each community centre.
One community centre employee, who did not wish to be named, said: “This is a huge thing which affects every single resident in South Tyneside.
“I don’t think people realise how important community centres are and how much they offer to the people.
“We know the council have to make savings but closing community centres will rip the heart out of some of our biggest and most deprived estates,
“Community centres provide a hub for people of all ages to take part in activities which support the health and wellbeing of some our most vulnerable residents.”
“Without them, you are looking at more youngsters on the streets with nothing to do, vulnerable people having nowhere to go, people who take part in sport and exercise classes having no venue and a potential increase in social isolation and obesity.
“In the grand scheme of things we are a relatively small cost. People need to start asking questions of their local councillors and ask them to publicly state where they stand on these proposals.
“Once these community centres are gone, there will be no bringing them back.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “The council continues its programme of remodelling services and buildings to meet the needs of local communities in South Tyneside.
“Due to unprecedented central government cuts, we must ensure that services are delivered in the most efficient and effective way and provide value for money.
“The budget process for 2016/17 and beyond is currently under way and no decisions have yet been taken.
“It would therefore be inappropriate to comment further on individual services.
“The council continues to work with communities across the borough to ensure the sustainable provision of local facilities.”
‘To lose them all will be a travesty’
News that the council is planning on pulling local-authority funding for community centres has hit a nerve with service users.
They fear if centres are forced to close it will have a serious impact on the communities they serve – in particular those who rely on the them to combat social isolation.
One service user, who did not want to be named, said: “This just has disaster written all over it. Community centres are the lifeblood of out estates and have provided a safe haven for generations of people but the council seems to want to strip that away.
“Maybe the council need to start looking at themselves and the cost and burden they place on the borough and start cutting there.
“Closing centres will have a detrimental effect on every single person in South Tyneside.”
“The council should be working with those managers to try and come up with viable and sustainable options to protect the services these centres provide.”
Another service user from another centre said: “I don’t think I know any centre who would be able to make the kind of money which will be needed to keep them open. The community centres I am aware of are very well-used and to lose them will be a travesty. What will happen to all the groups and all the people who use them? Where will they go?
“What about future generations?
“The kids, they will end up just hanging around the streets with nothing to do.”