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March 11, 2009

Highland communities wary of Council offer

Having agreed a programme of £20m cuts and 120 job losses, cash starved Highland Council are now offering communities the opportunity to take over the few remaining community centres which are owned by the Council. Communities are being offered a grant of £1000 to help with running costs. One community representative described the offer as "laughable"

SIX communities in Ross-shire are being offered a chance to take over and run their public hall.

Highland Council is reviewing its role in owning and managing community halls in an attempt to equalise the level of support it gives to local groups to run facilities.

At present 90 per cent of public halls in the region are independently owned and run by community bodies.

The council intends offering communities the chance to take over buildings with a grant of up to £1,000 a year towards costs.

Peter Hoffman, senior community learning and leisure officer with the council’s education, culture and sport service, has been consulting residents on the future of the Diamond Jubilee Hall in Evanton; the Perrins Centre in Alness; the Polnicol Hall in Delny; and halls in Milnafua, Saltburn and Fearn.

However Joan Ross, of Alness Community Association, said volunteers would not be able to find the funds needed and said the offer of £1,000 a year was “laughable”.

She went on “We need to know exactly what needs to be done to the building before we make any decisions one way or another.”

“There is no point in taking on a building if it’s going to cost the earth to bring it up to standard. We don’t think it’s in a bad state but it is a difficult building because of its age and it does need refurbishment.

“It’s a case of seeing what needs to be done and then investigating whether funding will be available to take it forward. It’s all very well saying ‘We have to save the Perrins Centre’ but if it’s going to take half a million pounds to bring it up to scratch, we will not be able to find that money as a small community.”

The Perrins Centre is used by local playgroups, dance groups, WRIs, the local Heart and Stroke support group, the fishing club and the Horticultural Society, which also stages two shows a year in the centre.

In addition the centre’s offices are used as a base by the charity Homestart, which does vital work in Alness offering support and friendship to families with young children and who are struggling.

The centre needs a full-time hall keeper to run it and operates from 9am until 9pm most nights.

But the council has made it clear that, if communities don’t want to take on the halls, they will most likely be sold.

Mrs Ross said: “Everybody is very keen to save it and it is used by a huge number of people every week.
“The groups that use it are the kind of groups which could not afford to hire space in the Averon Leisure Centre in the town.

“The people we have on the steering committee are very capable go-ahead people who will do their best to save the centre if it is achievable. We will know more when we see the results of the survey and we will take it from there.”
The Perrins Centre was built for the people of Alness by millionaire businessman Dyson Perrins – of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce fame – who once owned nearby Ardross Castle.