A community group which supports people with disabilities is once again at risk of losing its base.
Four years ago, members of the Jack Heath Club found themselves battling to save the John Wright Centre in South Shields.
Petitions and protests, including an impassioned plea to council chiefs by those running the voluntary group, fell on deaf ears and the council went ahead with recommendations to close the centre.
It left more than 60 members with learning and physical disabilities with nowhere to hold their weekly social group until Chuter Ede Community Centre offered them a home.
Now, the group says it now finds itself in the same position after leader of cash- strapped South Tyneside Council Iain Malcolm authorised a review into community centres.
He has told officers to identify those which could survive without a subsidy, those which could be run by other organisations and those which are not viable.
We are human beings. I just feel like they want to look at themselves, and the money they spend on the councillors and their expenses.Anne Younger
Those that council officers believe will not survive on their own could be closed, with the council’s cabinet making the decision on the future of each community centre.
The Jack Heath Club, which will next year mark its 50th anniversary, provides recreation and leisure activities for adults who have mental health difficulties or a learning disability.
David Selby, chairman of the club, which won a Community Group of the Year award for 2014, said: “I am absolutely devastated. I just don’t know where they are going with this.
“No one is coming out and saying anything and until we know what is happening we are just stuck.
“In the long run it is going to cause major problems – there are just no other facilities for groups like ours to go to.”
The club has about 70 members who frequent the weekly meetings, which have been held at Chuter Ede Community Centre for more than three years.
Anne Younger, treasurer of the group, added: “I just despair at times.
“We have 60 to 70 members at times turning up and Chuter Ede is a great facility for us – it has everything.
“Next year we have been going for 50 years and we should be looking at organising celebrations but instead we being faced with this.
“When the John Wright Centre closed we search the whole of South Tyneside, but there was nowhere which could cater for our group.
“We are a voluntary group which started off as a parent organisation and honestly I can’t believe what is happening.”
The row over the future of community centres rumbles on as a dark cloud looms over venues across South Tyneside.
This week a meeting was held at Chuter Ede Community Centre in Galsworthy Road, South Shields, attended by those who use the venue but also those from centres from across the borough.
During the meeting people were asked to write down their views on the review process being undertaken by council officials into the viability of community centres.
Here is a selection of those views:
l Why refurbish the Town Hall. How much is that costing and where is the money coming from?
l They say community associations are not statutory so they don’t fund them, leisure services are not statutory but yet the council pays lots for them.
l If they close the community associations, where will the young people go? More anti-social behaviour, more complaints, so ill pick this up?
l Why do we have three councillors per ward? Surely one will be enough with their pay covering some of the costs.
l How much will the council gain by seizing the land – at the cost of the people?
l Who will pick up the bills for vandalism when young people have nowhere to go and mental health issues for people who rely on the community associations for company – sometimes the only time they have other communication.
l I have attended this centre for 50 years and I live on the estate, there is nothing for anyone. We have just sorted out anti-social behaviour. This will now deteriorate and more money will be spent on policing.
l Why won’t the leader of the council come and face the people who elected them to do what the electorate vote for?
l Would you please identify as quickly as possible what is the future for each centre, so as to dispel the tide of rumours going around and do to enable us to plan for the future.
l Closing CAs will isolate a lot of elderly people who attend out centre –where is the community concern?
l I agree there has to be cuts but why from well-attended CAs? We have many overpaid heads of service etc... Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
l Have the council really looked at what it costs to run CAs, very little, so why close something that cost little money?
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “The budget process for 2016/17 and beyond is currently under way and no decisions have been taken yet.
“Residents have a chance to have their say via our budget consultation and we would encourage people to take part. Details of the consultation have been delivered to all 69,000 households via the latest residents’ newsletter and are available online at www.southtyneside.gov.uk
“The Local Government Act 1972 requires that South Tyneside, as a Metropolitan Borough Council, has three councillors per ward.
“The council continues its programme of remodelling services and buildings to meet the needs of local communities. Due to unprecedented central Government cuts, we must ensure services are delivered in the most efficient and effective way and provide value for money.”