Community centres fear closure after city council plans to hike up their rent

Councillors discuss plans to increase community centre rents at the Council House
By Matt Jarram, Local Democracy Reporter

Community centres could be forced to close across Nottingham if the council goes ahead with controversial plans to increase rents, managers say.

Nottingham City Council wants to up charges for the sites as part of plans to close a gap in its budgets of £38m over the next four years.

The authority says it can’t afford to effectively subsidise centres by charging tiny rents while it faces severe financial challenges.

But some managers say many community centres – which provide services to the elderly and vulnerable – will have no other option than to close their doors if the rises go ahead.

Cllr Neghat Khan (Lab), portfolio holder for neighbourhoods, safety and inclusion said some community centres had paid very little rent for decades.

The news – which came to light at a full council meeting on Monday, January 10 – has been greeted with dismay by some of the people working at the centres.

Karen Thomson, manager of Wollaton Park Community Centre, said: “It was a thriving community centre but now we are hanging by the skin of our teeth.

“We have been fortunate in the past – my committee has been amazing – but how long we can ride this out? We don’t know. I don’t see us being here in the future particularly if we are going to have extortionate rent put on us.

“We were a busy community centre before the pandemic but since then, a lot of our members are elderly, and they don’t want to come out, and groups have folded.”

She said the community centre in Harrow Road was set up in 1972 and runs dementia singing and gardening groups, coffee mornings for the elderly and vulnerable as well as sports clubs such as badminton.

“This community centre was built by the community,” she said.

“The money was raised by residents and then built by the council. I am hugely disappointed the council wants to rent something back that the community paid for themselves.

“We get very little grants. But if they are talking [hypothetically] £100 a month rent we would close. I would be really upset if they put it up at all.”

Her feelings were echoed by Lesley Fyffe, manager of Dunkirk and Old Lenton Community Centre in Montpelier Road.

She said:  “The pandemic has seen our income going down and it has seen attendance drop. We saw 650 people a week using this centre before the pandemic.

“This last week, for example, we will have as few as 150 people here. That is assuming the groups will keep bookings.

“Putting extra charges on us will go down like a lead balloon in the community world. Community centres are run on a shoestring budget. I am quite sure there will be more community centre closures.”

Cllr Kevin Clarke, leader of the opposition Independent Group at Nottingham City Council, questioned Cllr Khan about the proposals at full council.

He was worried about Highbank Community Centre in Clifton. There are currently 38 community centres operating across the city.

Cllr Khan said: “The council has a number of properties which it lets to community groups for minimal rent, often not responsible for building liabilities.

“Historically our community centres have been on extremely low rent, resulting in them being propped up and subsidised by the council.

“Colleagues are aware of the significant challenges to ensure we have a balanced budget. We will need to have a broader vision which looks at how we utilise our non-essential services.

“We must start making our assets pay for themselves and not remain empty and unused at a significant cost to the taxpayer.”

She said the group which runs Highbank currently pays £10 a year and has paid that figure for 32 years.

She said the cost of running the building is £12,783

She said ‘fair market rates’ would be applied when making the rent rise decision.

“We can’t continue to subsidise at these high levels – charging £10 annually is not a viable option going forward,” she added.

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