People power could be the way forward for Falkirk’s public amenities

Bowhouse Community Centre has gone from strength to strength under the leadership of a voluntary association
Bowhouse Community Centre has gone from strength to strength under the leadership of a voluntary association

Community centres being run by members of the community could be the light at the end of a long dark tunnel of cuts and closures.

Proposals contained within Falkirk Community Trust’s latest business plan include closing Grangemouth Town Hall, Hallglen Sports Centre and Denny Football Centre and cutting opening hours at Callendar House and Grangemouth Sports Centre crèche in a bid to cut costs and make savings.

The plans will be going before Falkirk Council for its approval, but residents and community groups have already voiced their anger at the moves, which many see as extreme.

Falkirk Community Trust was set up four years ago to run cultural, sporting and leisure services on behalf of the council and is now having to make some difficult decisions due to its current financial situation and the fact it failed to hit nearly half of its performance targets last year.

However, another group was set up last year in Grangemouth – without much fanfare or publicity – and may be one of the organisations which could provide the blueprint for the way community facilities will be run in the future.

Bowhouse Community Association took a run down and tired Bowhouse Community Centre and, with the help of £250,000 investment from Falkirk Council, turned it around to make it a vital, well used facility.

Local hairdresser and businesswoman Michaela Tripney became chairperson of the newly formed association last September and immediately got the ball rolling.

She said: “I was asked to have a wee look at things. I grew up six doors away from the centre and would play there as a wee girl, but the place was in quite a state of disrepair and the accounts were not up to date – it needed to be taken into the 21st Century.

“I invited people to come along and join the association committee. We now have a strong committee made up of residents and representatives of groups who use the centre. We meet every month and everyone has their own roles and responsibilities.”

Thanks to a major refurbishment programme, the centre now boasts new toilets, disabled facilities, new ceilings, a lighting system for the stage, audio loop technology and wi-fi.

The centre is now used from early in the mornings, by a regular fitness class, right into the night with social dancing and other groups, including slimming classes, a childminding group with 40 youngsters, table tennis and football sessions for children.

It is also becoming a popular venue to hold children’s birthday parties and a meeting place for everything from volunteer groups and migrant support organisations to local councillors holding their regular surgeries.

The successful turnaround of Bowhouse Community Centre and its growing popularity has not gone unnoticed by other bodies in the town. Michaela said representatives of under threat Grangemouth Town Hall had invited her to a meeting being held to discuss possible ways forward for the historic building.

She said: “They said they saw the success we have had with Bowhouse Community Centre and wanted to hear how we did it and what business model we used.”

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The success a group of local volunteers has enjoyed running Bowhouse Community Centre is something which can be applied elsewhere for various facilities.

News of the proposed closure of Grangemouth Town Hall and other Falkirk Community Trust-run premises have spurred a number of individuals and groups into action, with several public meetings being held to discuss the issue.

The threat posed to the town hall may in fact be the driving force behind the reformation of Grangemouth Community Council and the incentive people need to question the community trust approach and ask is there a better way of doing things.

While people are getting active to protect their local facilities, members of Bowhouse Community Association continue to do their utmost to run their local community centre because they know how important it is.

Andy Daly, secretary, said: “It’s now an excellent facility, run by the community for the community.”

The association, which has charitable status, earns its money from the hall lets it receives from the groups which use it and all profits are poured back into the running, maintenance and improvement of the premises.

Chairperson Michaela Tripney said: “Everyone on the committee is a volunteer, there is no financial gain in this for anyone.”

Irene Daly, lettings officer, said: “Facilities like this bring and keep people together and are a vital resource in the heart of the community. We were lucky because we got a good team together on the association from the very start.

“Communication is important too – you have to provide a reliable contact which people can get in touch with at all times if they want to use the hall.”

The centre reached its 50th anniversary in November and the association is looking to celebrate the milestone with an event planned early next spring. There are also future plans for a car park, garden and a community cafe.