By Kevin Unitt 23/03 Updated: 23/03 08:21
SINCE we revealed last month that Leamington's Bath Place Community Venture has been served notice to leave its temporary home at the Old Library in Avenue Road, there has been widespread support for the long-running organisation, including petitions being launched to save it.
Here in an open letter to readers and supporters, Clayton Denwood, site supervisor for the organisation, gives an update on the situation as time appears to be running out to find a solution.
As many will know, over the past two-and-a-half years the Venture has, with the dedication of the staff, trustees and the help of countless volunteers, resurrected the entire ground floor and basement of the Old Library and is now home to numerous community organisations, social enterprises and educational activities. We host an endless array of local individuals, groups, meetings, training and counseling sessions, art exhibits, benefit concerts and we receive a steady stream of requests for accessible and affordable space on an almost daily basis.
'home to a host of community groups'
We are also home to the Community Arts Workshop (CAW) and Mediation & Community Support (MACS) both integral and highly valued organisations in their own right. We provide a safe and accessible place for a large number of vulnerable people and our partnership with Springfield MIND has also proven to be very successful. Our greatly loved Café, the famous VeggieTable, can draw from a vast pool of volunteers and is an important part of various school work experience programs. Some of our volunteers are adults and young people with disabilities and these latest events carry the threat of yet another major upheaval for them. The County Music Service, Spires Orchestra and the Early Music Ensemble find the acoustics to their liking and have also become a major part of the weekly cycle of creativity.
We have welcomed county and district council for training sessions, the Conservative Party, who generously furnished our IT suite, The Labour Party, the National Young Greens Conference, pre-election debates, Warwick University Student Union Groups (Amnesty, Oxfam, The Shakespeare Society, V-Day etc.) The Leamington History Group, Multi-faith organisations, Young peoples theatre, local weddings, language classes, youth drama, re-employment agencies, U3A, toddler groups and varied branches of Yoga and Pilates. Warwickshire College currently hires the facilities for literacy and numeracy classes and the Princes Trust and Warwickshire Probation contribute with volunteering opportunities and Community Payback schemes respectively. The list goes on and on.
The Old Library is a magnificent Victorian civic space that proves itself beyond price daily and speaks volumes about the vision of the original builders.
The history of the building is that the land was granted to the Borough of Leamington Spa in 1899 by the Wise Family “for the purposes of a Public Library, an Art & Technical School, a Museum or any other Municipal building” and was used over the years in a few different guises but is currently owned by Warwickshire College due to the fact that it was transferred by the county council for the sum of £97,100 in 1999.
At present, the College is looking to sell the building for a “market rate” of around £1.5 million and we are aware of at least one developer who is interested in converting the building into private use. Let’s be very clear here, we are being asked to leave so that the aforementioned developer will have “vacant possession” with which to apply for planning permission. There has been no sale as yet and the building could very easily be boarded up again should the as yet unseen plans be found to not be feasible. It’s also important to remember that planning permission has been given once already when it stood empty in 2007 but has expired due to the unsuitability of the scheme.
'our vision is strong'
I believe the vision we have for the Old Library presents a far superior opportunity for Leamington and we have ambitious development ideas of our own but without security of tenure and support from local government it is impossible to raise the funds required to restore and preserve this unique part of our cultural heritage. Knowing what I know about our finances, I could reasonably guarantee that if we had been offered a price of £97,100 (around £150,000 in today’s currency) instead of £1.5 million we’d have raised that money in a heartbeat and local government would be able to credit themselves with a fully self-sustaining, all singing, all dancing, environmentally friendly Community Anchor providing a wide range of services and programs that help and support mental health, creativity and learning for young and old.
The entire community sector plays an enormous role in the well being of the district and it’s why I have put so much of my time and energy into supporting this one part of it. I do however, find it extremely frustrating pleading simply to just to carry on with our work as if everything that occurs within these walls has no value at all. Sadly, it’s the way it can feel at times and it’s something that I think the authorities need to be aware of when they consider what is actually at stake here. There has been a lot of talk about a replacement or substitute premises for Bath Place but there is nothing that really offers one iota of what the Old Library does and could do on an even larger scale.
The difficulty is one of competing needs and visions of what the building’s future should be but I believe everyone involved should work together to find a solution that works for the greatest good. One only has to read some of the commentary on the e-petition to see how deeply the feeling runs from all over the county and beyond and I would especially like to thank everyone who has dropped by or got in touch to offer us their support and encouragement.
Bath Place Community Venture @ The Old Library
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