Village petitions against closure of community centre

MEARNS residents have joined forces to petition against the possible closure of the local community centre.

Residents of Laurencekirk have started up a petition to save the facility due to fears that it might not be retained following the opening of the new Mearns Academy.

Councillors gave the go-ahead for a £24million replacement for the current school in October last year and two public consultation sessions were held in St Lawrence Hall recently to gauge residents’ views about what community facilities should be provided in the building.

Concern that there will not be sufficient space in the new school to accommodate everything that currently goes on at the community centre has led to residents taking action, although council chiefs have confirmed no decision has been taken regarding the facility’s future.

Helen Reid, who runs an out-of-school club at the centre, said she speaks on behalf of all the user groups who are very keen to retain the current centre.

She said: “We came away from the consultation thinking that the accommodation we were being offered as part of the new building was far smaller than the current accommodation we have at the community centre.

“We also came away thinking we did not get answers as to what would happen to the existing community centre and that is why we felt, after speaking with the user groups, that we should get a petition up to save the centre.

“At the moment the petitions are out in most of the shops and it is going really well - it has only been a week and there are already over 300 signatures, I would say. There are a lot of people signing it and it shows the strong feeling there is about the centre. It is in the heart of our community, the heart of the village, and is easy to access, especially for elderly people.

“At the end of the day, what we are trying to say is that we are getting a raw deal with what is being offered to us in the new building.

“A lot of the elderly people who use the community centre will not be able to travel up to the new building, and for a lot of these old folk it is the only time they go out to things - they meet at the centre for coffee morning and lunch clubs, exercise classes, art groups. In one week, over 900 folk went through the community centre and where they are going to put them in the new building, I just don’t know.

“Our feeling is that this consultation should have been done long before it went to planning. Nobody is giving us any answers to what is happening and that is one of our biggest problems - we felt we needed to do the petition before it is too late for us to do anything about it.”

Mearns councillor George Carr confirmed that no decisions have yet been taken about the future of the community centre.

“No decision have yet been made - I got that from the council’s director and as a local councillor I will hold him to his word on that,” he said.

“At the moment we are just doing assessment into what is going to be deliverable in the new building. We have also got to have a mind to the future budget cuts that we are all going to face but we have a responsibility as Aberdeenshire Council to deliver fit for purpose services to the community and as a local councillor, I, for one, will do all I can to make sure we balance those two objectives within the facility that we have.

“The community centre provides a great service for the Mearns and I do not want to see that compromised.

“We certainly need to be absolutely sure that there is provision for all the work that takes place at the moment before we even contemplate shifting any of that.”

Aberdeenshire Council will provide just over £13million to go toward the new school, with the remainder – £11.26million – coming from the Scottish Futures Trust. The school is due to be built by 2014.