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Councillors anger over plans to close Community House in Wisbech as funding is lost

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A ‘vital’ community asset is set to close at the end of the month and two local councillors are furious at the lack of consultation.

Community House is set for closure after funding was withdrawn by the DWP. (4794413)
Community House is set for closure after funding was withdrawn by the DWP. (4794413)

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced it will no longer be funding a project at Community House in Wisbech, which helps residents overcome barriers to skills, training and employment.

The decision has led to Fenland District Council taking the decision to close the house and hand it back to Clarion, who has leased the property to the council free of charge and has helped fund its running costs in the past.

Councillors Mike and Virginia Bucknor. (4795101)
Councillors Mike and Virginia Bucknor. (4795101)

Waterlees Ward councillors Virginia and Michael Bucknor are furious at the decision, which was announced in a memo to all members from portfolio holder Coun Mike Cornwell.

Coun Mrs Bucknor said: “This is absolutely outrageous, we are the ward councillors but we have not been asked about our views on this.

Flashback to when the employability service was relaunched now Community House is set for closure after funding was withdrawn by the DWP.
Flashback to when the employability service was relaunched now Community House is set for closure after funding was withdrawn by the DWP.

“There has been no discussion and no public consultation.

“I understand the DWP has announced it will no longer be funding the scheme which provides specialist help to those who need it to find employment. But what I want to know is whether any other sources of funding have been looked at.

“The memo says they are considering keeping the large garden, which belongs to the house, for community use. But have they thought about the need for running water, power or even toilets, if the garden is going to be used by the community?

“We are absolutely furious that this decision has been made without any reference to us as ward councillors.

“I know the Oasis Centre now runs a similar scheme to the one at Community House, but there are other uses it could have. It seems really short-sighted to close such a vital community asset.”

Coun Cornwell’s memo says one member of staff will be affected by the closure and they are being “supported through the process”.

The 30 people who currently use the service offered at Community House will be “supported onto other programmes in the ward”.

He also said it was agreed back in 2015 during the council’s comprehensive spending review that if external funding could not be secured for work at the house it would close.

He said: “Since that time, the council has been successful in obtaining one-off grants from the DWP and Clarion to meet the premises and employee costs to maintain the service and had made an application to the Wisbech Community Led Local Development (CLLD) board for an additional three years’ funding to cover the financial years 2018-21.

“Unfortunately, the grant submission has not been accepted by the CLLD board on the basis that the services provided from Community House can now be supported by other services and agencies in the ward.

“Therefore, as the council has no other funding options for the project, it is proposed to end the scheme from November 1, 2018, and enter into detailed discussions with Clarion regarding future use of the property, as no other council services are provided from this location.

“Ceasing the service and returning the property to Clarion will avoid approximately £30,000 of revenue costs per annum, in line with the original CSR savings plan.”

He said: “While it is disappointing that we have not been able to secure additional funding for the future of this service, it is positive that there is a lot more community provision in the area now than what was prevalent in 2015, so there will be no loss of service for those who need support.

“I want to make it clear that we remain committed to supporting people to secure a positive future. There are around 30 customers currently utilising the service and work will be undertaken to support them on to other programmes, ensuring they are aware of the full range of other services that are available to them to provide information and advice regarding their future employment plans.

“It is likely Clarion will return the house to its original residential use and it is understood they would propose that the attached large community garden, be retained for wider community activities, volunteering and events.”

Work undertaken by Fenland Council will continue. For example:

* Working with the Oasis Centre to expand services it delivers

* Continuing to deliver Streetpride volunteering support and development

* Working with the community and voluntary Sector to lever in additional investment into the town

* Supporting the community actions set out in the Wisbech 2020 strategy

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