Community centres under spotlight in council review

Community centres under spotlight in council review

9 October 2019

THE future of the district’s community centres is to come under the spotlight as part of a wide-ranging review spearheaded by Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

The exercise will be similar to the examination of the district’s playgrounds which paved the way for a new strategy which resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds being invested in new facilities and upgrading others.

In addition to reviewing community centre provision, the council is also to examine the future of local authority parks and open spaces, with ratepayers across the district widely consulted on both exercises.

Following the success of the local authority’s sports and indoor leisure facility review, council officials believe it is time to examine both 

community centre and parks and open space provision. The exercise is expected to take around 12 months to complete.

Council officials will examine each community centre in detail with the exercise looking at the population they serve, the number of young people in their area, crime statistics and if the facilities are located in so-called neighbourhood renewal areas.

One area the review will examine will be Crossgar where local people are keen to see new community centre provided. 

A major feasibility study was carried out a number of years ago with a site adjacent to St Colmcille’s High School in the village identified as the preferred location for a new community and sports centre. While a new facility was never constructed, the forthcoming review will examine if the need for it remains.

The idea of the community centre probe is to determine potential under provision and where new facilities may be required moving forward. 

Council officials will also look to see if there is over provision in any areas but insist there are no plans to close any existing centres. They argue that the main driver is about increasing and improving community provision across the district.

While it’s still early days, council officials say they will work through the process over the next year and will keep ratepayers fully informed about consultation meetings which will be held across all seven district electoral areas to ensure everyone has an opportunity to have their say.

Described as a “significant piece of work”, the review will also include discussions with community groups and associations.

Insisting that the review is not about closing community centres, council officials say the examination of current provision will focus on where they are located and local need. And they have suggested that the exercise could potentially throw up issues which surfaced during the playground strategy which resulted in some play parks amalgamating.

Council officials say while the intention is not to close any centres at this stage, the review will focus on potential gaps in current provision to help form strategic decisions about where to build new centres if this is required. 

The review will also examine which community centres may require refurbishment and potential extensions to allow them to meet increasing demand.

Council officials have confirmed that a number of the district’s community centres are part-funded by the Department for Communities with a number also run by local groups and associations.

Ahead of the community centre review, council officials have been conducting an exercise looking at the user figures and the number of programmes that the respective centres deliver. Part of the forthcoming review will also take a critical look at funding streams to help increase centre usage.

Council officials say the parks and open spaces strategy will identify those that need upgraded and those which are not necessarily adding any value. It will examine those that can be improved with the review rolled out over the next 12 months.

When the community centre and parks and open spaces review has been completed, initial reports will be debated by the local authority’s Active and Health Communities Committee which will then make recommendations to the full council 

to agree a new strategy moving forward.