Strawberry Lane: Future still a worry despite councillor’s assurances

Leeds City College will pull out of Strawberry Lane Community Centre, Armley
Leeds City College will pull out of Strawberry Lane Community Centre, Armley

Fears that Strawberry Lane Community Centre in Armley could face an uncertain future have been expressed at a public meeting.

Armley Helping Hands (AHH), one of the community organisations using the centre, is worried that Leeds City College’s withdrawal will mean the council-owned centre no longer pays its way.

CEO Dawn Newsome told yesterday’s public meeting that the college pulling out would make the centre ‘vulnerable’ to closure as the council looks to cut its own costs.

The college currently rents half the centre, but is leaving on August 31. Ms Newsome said:

“There are concerns about this centre becoming vulnerable. There are centres at risk of closing all over the city. We have always been full to capacity but once the college goes we’ll be half empty and I worry that puts us at risk.

“In the long term the college’s withdrawal could have a major impact.”

She added that the prospect of having to look at alternative accommodation would have a major impact on the service the neighbourhood network could provide older people in need.

The centre also  houses services for adults with learning difficulties and youth services.

Cllr James McKenna Armley
Cllr James McKenna

Armley ward councillor James McKenna (Lab) attempted to allay fears about the future of the centre, saying he was confident another organisation would be found to fill the gap. He said:

“When the college closes this building will still be here. Armley Helping Hands will still be here. We have no plans to move Armley Helping Hands or any other services that uses Strawberry Lane.

“They do excellent work in the community and they have the full support of all three Armley ward councillors.”

A local resident told the meeting that there was more to the closure than losing important college courses. She said:

“This is double headed. The impact on the wider community of the college leaving the centre will be huge.

“I live nearby and I see who comes and who goes and it is the people who do not have the confidence to travel out of the community who will suffer.

“But it’s not just about education.  It is about having a community hub where people of all backgrounds can come together in one place. It is all about community building.”

Cllr McKenna repeated his and Cllr Alison Lowe’s support for AHH and the centre as influential senior councillors. He praised the work of the city’s neighbourhood networks in supporting older people, which was delivered more cost effectively than council provision. He added:

“I am very optimistic we will get somebody else in. But I will meet with AHH and other ward members and we’ll look at the situation forensically.”

Cllr McKenna suggested Ms Newsome take a delegation from AHH to speak about the organisation’s work before all 99 councillors at September’s full council meeting at the Civic Hall.

It was also suggested that everyone present at the public meeting – it was attended by 13 people – should write to Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves to voice anger over Government cuts to adult education. Ms Reeves could then pressure the secretary of state into making changes.

Leeds City College is closing its centre after having 20% of its adult education budget cut by central government. The public meeting was called by a concerned local resident.

You can read about the college’s reasons for closure here and a summary of the five key points from the public meeting.


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