A storm is brewing over a council review which could signal the death knell for community centres in South Tyneside, as residents united to voice their concerns.
People from across South Tyneside met at Chuter Ede Community Centre to air their feelings over plans to make the venues self-sufficient.
Council leader Iain Malcolm has authorised a review into the viability of community centres as part of a money-saving exercise.
He has told officers to identify those which could survive without subsidy, those which could be run by other organisations and those which are not viable – those officers believe will not survive on their own could be closed.
A decision over the future of each community centre will be made at a future meeting of the council’s cabinet.
Mick Anderson, who chaired Wednesday night’s meeting and is also a member of the Chuter Ede Community Centre Management Committee said: “The fact we not only had people who use Chuter Ede but also from other centres shows the strength of feeling there is against what the council are proposing.
“Everyone is worried about the future of the centres. The council talk about the cuts they have to make but they need to come clean over what savings they aim to make.
“If they go ahead and close community centres you are going to have fewer people attending fitness classes and sports clubs, more older people and those with disabilities staying at home on their own and becoming isolated, and more kids hanging around the streets.
“What provisions are they planning to put in place to combat the problems and issues which will inevitably arise from the closure of centres?”
Independent – Putting People First Coun Lee Hughes said: “My personal opinion is that there could be savings made elsewhere. If community centres go, you are going to lose the community spirit altogether.
“Just talking about Perth Green, I know the boxing clubs there have taken kids off the streets where they have learned discipline and respect – where are they going to go if centres are closed? Where does it leave dance schools?
“It’s all down to cost-cutting. What I think is annoying people is that one day they are talking about saving money and the next there is an article in the paper talking about the millions of pounds being spent in the town centre and on a bus station we don’t really need.”
“My thinking on it is that it is a no-win situation for community centre users.
“If the centres prove that they can be financially viable, admission costs will need to rise to a point where it will be unaffordable to many.
“If the centres close then people will have to travel way outside of their local area to access leisure groups,”
A spokesman for the 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 16/17 and beyond is currently under way and no decisions have yet been taken. If we are forced to go elsewhere, that is if there is anywhere for us to go, then that could push up the cost of my classes, which could prevent a lot of my families from coming.”