Ardagh centre: sudden closure may do good

February 28 2014

FRIENDS of Horfield Common remain hopeful about the future of its much-loved community venue, despite its recent controversial closure and reopening.

FRIENDS of Horfield Common remain hopeful about the future of its much-loved community venue, despite its recent controversial closure and reopening.

The Ardagh centre, located on Horfield Common, was closed on Friday 31 January following an inspection from a council safety officer, who deemed the building's fire warning system "inadequate".

However, no-one was consulted about the emergency closure of the building, says the chair of Friends of Horfield Common, Sam Thomson.

The Ardagh was then reopened the following Monday after a meeting held between the Ardagh Bowling Club, who are tenants of the building, and the council officer.

She said: "The bowling club have been treated unfairly - members were even losing sleep over the weekend the building was closed."

The Ardagh Toddlers group was also cancelled due to the sudden closure.

Ms Thomson added: "There is a very contentious history surrounding the Ardagh. It's a fantastic community venue, and an asset for the local community. To say that it has fallen through the cracks over the past few decades is an understatement - there has been a serious lack of investment and the Ardagh has not been seen as a priority.

"Although the experience was very stressful and frustrating, it's kick-started some much needed work to the building. The roof is now being replaced and the wiring is being sorted. Work is now being done, so we're hopefully in a position to move forward."

A cabinet meeting, held on February 4, saw 254 statements out of 257 submitted to the council expressing concerns about the closure of the Ardagh.

The closure has also made Bristol mayor, George Ferguson, take an "direct interest" in the Ardagh.

Ms Thomson said: "There was a deluge of correspondence and the community's response and support was fantastic."

Bishopston councillor, David Willingham, has also condemned the council's handling of the area's community facility.

Improvements that the council promised to complete by last July have not been carried out, and the Ardagh has been left to deteriorate, he says.

Various groups use the building regularly, including users of the bowling green and tennis courts, a weekly toddler group and a support group for disabled children.

Councillor Willingham said: "It is unacceptable for the council to have allowed the site to deteriorate to this level of dilapidation.

"If a private landlord had left its tenants in a building that had a leaking roof, and the other dilapidations that the Ardagh suffers from, the council would have long since taken action."

He added: "Groups like Friends of Horfield Common have shown their willingness to fight for this site and are actively looking to secure its future via the Community Asset Transfer process.

"But as the landlord, the council has got to get the site into a good state of repair to facilitate this transfer."

The Community Asset Transfer is the leasing of properties by the council to voluntary and community organisations, often at a reduced or minimal rent. These arrangements range from short-term licences to long leases.

Allowing Friends of Horfield Common to manage the Ardagh will help empower local communities and bring opportunities for greater independence and financial sustainability.

A council spokesperson said: "We do not accept that there has been a history of council neglect of the facility.

"In the last three years the council has spent £39K on the Ardagh site on top of its annual maintenance costs and is committed to spend a further £36K on the pavilion.

"Earlier this month, a fire audit was carried out by a specialist council officer. A number of defects were found with the building due to the way the use of the building has changed in recent years with more people and groups hiring the building from the tenants.

"This resulted in the pavilion being closed for two days and then re-opened with some of the current uses restricted. The council will work with the tenants to put things right.

"The future of the Ardagh, as a multi-functional site that meets the needs of the wider community, can only be secured by a partnership of interested parties and the council will provide its full support to this.

"To support future aspirations of the Ardagh, it will be necessary for the partners to focus on how they can attract the additional funding requirement from non-council sources."

The Ardagh