As you may have guessed, having a usable community space is integral to the sort of work we can do in St Crispin’s. At the moment, many of the groups were are running are meeting in our front room, which is fine at the moment given the size of the book group, baby signing, and baby-friendly Bible study group. However, there is a limit to the number of people you can fit in a 16′ by 12′ living room! As we progress we will want to offer larger toddler groups and perhaps a Messy Church style monthly service, and for these you need a larger space with adequate food-preparation facilities.
It is important to get this right, as this centre will serve the whole area of St. Crispin’s: the 1100 houses that are already here, the 80 more being built and the 240 coming in the conversion of the former Victorian psychiatric hospital. With future developments in the pipelines on the immediately surrounding areas of Princess Marina (a former 1950s psychiatric hospital, recently closed) and Upton Lodge (farmland), there is a distinct possibility that our centre will also be serving those areas until their own community facilities are built.
There have always been plans for a community centre here, detailed in the Section 106 Agreement (the document which insists that developers build green spaces, community facilities and transport infrastructure). These usually documents usually have trigger points written into them, such as a play-park after 50 houses are completed etc.
Our community centre was supposed to have been built by now, as the trigger point was reached some time ago, but has been delayed due to a change in the proposed location. The original plans had the community centre situated behind some shops, so it wasn’t very visible or very big, and there was inadequate parking and access. The Borough Council, along with some residents, successfully appealed to have the location changed to a site near the proposed playing fields, in a much more prominent position (just off the left side of this photo), and integrated with the changing rooms that were going to go beside the playing fields anyway.
The 106 Agreement sets aside approximately £750,000 for this building, which was to include a large hall, toilets, and two sets of FA standard changing rooms.
Earlier this year there was consultation with residents and interested parties (i.e. me) about what else might go in it too. The council collated this information and issued some specifications which include the above as well as a smaller meeting room, kitchen, office and storage. These documents were then circulated to architects to come up with a design.
The design hasn’t been finalised yet, but I’m told that one company has come up with something suitable and has passed it to the Borough Council and Parish Council for deliberations. Unfortunately, it looks like more money will need to be found, or the cost reduced, as the design comes in above the £750k originally indicated. I guess inflation has been higher than expected since 2002 when the 106 Agreement was signed. Building also relies on the transfer of the site from the developer to the council, which can be held up by all sorts of different things.
So, the current situation is still, ‘watch this space’. I’m hopeful, as are the Parish Council, that the first sods can be dug in the next few months, and that we’ll have a viable community centre in the next year and a half. In the meantime, I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing, building relationships and concentrating on the small groups that we are able to hold.