'A shame they're even thinking of closing it down'

Published date: 14 January 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


WHEN was the last time you visited a community centre?

Some of us might spend years without setting foot in a community centre, but for others, the buildings can represent anything from an opportunity for fitness, a refuge from isolation or a haven for parents who want their little ones to spend time in a safe, social environment.

Wrexham Council recently announced it would only fund nine of the 19 community centres across the county.

The remaining 10 were threatened with demolition by April.

Although a mixture of community councils and groups have stepped in to save some, the futures of centres in Bwlchgwyn, Llay, Penycae and Tanyfron are hanging in the balance.

Meanwhile, Kingsley Circle Community Centre in Wrexham looks very likely to shut after Caia Park Community Centre refused to fund it.

“It’s right at the heart of Caia Park,” said Ruth Evans, a producer for the Welsh National Opera (WNO).

Ruth is part of a team that set up a number of projects in Wrexham, including a family choir drawn from residents of Caia Park, recognised by the government as being an area of social deprivation.

She said: “Côr Caia was set up in April last year as part of three years of community work by the WNO. In a few months, the WNO project will end, but hopefully Côr Caia will continue independently.

“Practises are held in Kingsley Circle Community Centre every Tuesday. It’s a great space. We heard on the grapevine that something might be happening to it, which would be such a shame.”

Ruth, who lives in Llanarmon yn Ial, said the choir meant a lot to the people who attended the sessions.

She said: “The people in Caia Park might not have encountered opera before.

There’s a perception it’s for a certain type of person, but we bring it to them in an entirely new way. We’ve brought professional singers in to sing with them.

“It’s giving them an extra experience they’d never normally get. And it’s such a fantastic group of people.”

The choir is open to all ages and all backgrounds, so both young and old sing side-by-side.

Ruth said: “There’s not many places around and you need somewhere that isn’t a school for the community. I really hope it doesn’t go.”

Like a number of other centres under threat, Kingsley Circle Community Centre is in good repair.

It is equipped with a stage and is used by many different sections of the community, including bingo players and a playgroup.

Likewise, Tanyfron Community centre is in a good state of repair.

Diane Hughes, principal and founder of Delta Academy of Dance and Performing Arts, regularly runs classes there.

She said: “It’s a nice studio. When we first came to it, the community centre was quite run down and it was at the point where it might have been taken away from the village.

“But it was saved. It’s a good thing all round for the village.

“It’s a massive part of the community. It’s somewhere children can mix with each other and learn how to socialise, and it has a wider impact than that.

“At our classes, mothers make friends while they’re waiting. They’ll sit down and have a chat and there’s even someone who comes in to sell coffee, so it’s a little bit of revenue.”

The hall, pulled back from the brink, is now utilised for other activities, including computer classes, and is hired out for functions.

Diane said: “We’ve branched out and have dance centres elsewhere, but because they are so popular, if the community centre went, we’d be stuck. We wouldn’t know where we could go.

“These places are getting few and far between.”

Simon Brewin, a Shotokan karate instructor, teaches at Penycae community centre.

He said: “I started about 14 months ago. I teach on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and I chose it simply because I live in the village.

“It’s going quite well – we have a good class of regulars including eight children.

They’re coming on leaps and bounds. They went to their first tournament recently. Only four went and we brought back three golds and four bronze medals, which was amazing.”

Like the Welsh National Opera and Delta, Simon’s karate class gives youngsters somewhere to go and something to do.

He said it’s a well used facility and added: “If this goes, Penycae won’t have anything for them to do in terms of physical fitness except maybe go to the park.”

Simon, a former military man, said he had “no qualms” about using the building.

“It’s a good place. It’s recently been done up. A lot of money has been put into it. It’s a shame they are even thinking about closing it.

“I don’t think I’d be able to carry on teaching if I had to go out of area. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do anything locally.”

Council leader Neil Rogers said Wrexham Council gave early notice the authority did not have the funding to keep the community centres going.

The alternative, he said, was a “huge hike” in council tax.

He added: “Regrettably, with the council having to find at least £45m worth of savings over the next five years, it does not have the resources to support these further in the future.

“The council will look at ways in which we can assist and enable other bodies to provide these facilities and services.”

For now, the groups and community centres will continue to operate, but it remains to be seen whether there will be a last minute reprieve.

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