Falkirk Council: Plea to safeguard Avonbridge community hall from closure

Volunteers are pleading with Falkirk Council to find a way to keep a small village’s only community space open.
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Avonbridge Community Hall – which will be 100 years old next year – is facing closure as part of Falkirk Council’s strategic property review which will see more than 100 buildings either close or transfer out of council ownership.

The council’s aim is to make massive savings in property cost and carbon footprint, and it is promoting Community Asset Transfers (CAT) to make the community responsible for their buildings and all of the costs.

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But Avonbridge Community Association (ACA), which manages the hall, says it is unrealistic for the small village to take ownership of the building where the energy costs alone would be £12,000 and expensive repairs are badly needed.

Councillor Claire Mackie Brown and Avonbridge Community Association chair Judith Fisher. Picture: Contributed.Councillor Claire Mackie Brown and Avonbridge Community Association chair Judith Fisher. Picture: Contributed.
Councillor Claire Mackie Brown and Avonbridge Community Association chair Judith Fisher. Picture: Contributed.

The hall – built as a Miners’ Welfare – on Blackford Road, serves as a polling station and emergency shelter for the area – most recently it took in the elderly residents of Blackfaulds House, when fire broke out in the care home in 2019.

But it is also at the heart of a community that has issues common to many post-industrial villages; working poverty, social isolation, digital exclusion and poor public transport among them.

The hall is currently run by seven local volunteers as an affordable venue that offers private lets and activities including a weekly Kids Club, Braes Wee Choir and a dance group.

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There’s also a weekly ‘Munch and Brunch’ – funded by the National Lottery – which gives mainly elderly people a chance to get together and have a chat, something to eat and plenty of tea.

Bookbug is held at Avonbridge Community Hall. Picture: Contributed.Bookbug is held at Avonbridge Community Hall. Picture: Contributed.
Bookbug is held at Avonbridge Community Hall. Picture: Contributed.

There are other community celebrations year-round, plus projects such as gardening and litter picks, digital inclusion and reading schemes.

During school holidays, the hall also hosts cafes for kids and teenagers, offering free food, family veg bags and activities, thanks to funding from Fairer Falkirk.

All of that is now under threat as the committee says it simply can’t take on the responsibility for the building and all of the costs.

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ACA treasurer Dave Cameron said: “Perhaps larger towns and villages can find enough people and capacity to take on a building, but I’m sorry, I’ve tried all ways and just can’t make a business plan that will stack up.

Munch Brunch at Avonbridge Community Hall. Picture: Contributed.Munch Brunch at Avonbridge Community Hall. Picture: Contributed.
Munch Brunch at Avonbridge Community Hall. Picture: Contributed.

“We’ve managed to sustain some amazing projects these last few years with just £4000 of income balancing about £4000 of core costs.

“Owning the building would add £12,000 at least in energy costs alone – we just can’t find that sort of money every year.”

A detailed independent survey in March 2022 concluded that the building could never be made entirely “fit for purpose” given its age and underlying construction.

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However, it did provide some “ball-park estimates” of potential community ownership costs.

In the short term, nearly £200,000 would be needed for major spend to save work on roofing, insulation, ceilings, lighting, rewiring, replumbing, etc. that could help reduce running costs by around half.

Another £82,000 is the estimate for things such as new windows, floor coverings, kitchen, toilet, and other fittings.

A long-term alternative would be a new-build that a very rough estimate suggests would be around £500,000.

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The group has looked at Avonbridge Primary School as a possible alternative venue but believe the cost would be an issue for most users.

They also say the booking system is “difficult to navigate”, there is no local key-holder to open and close the building, and no catering-grade kitchen to support ACA’s essential community food projects.

ACA chair Judith Fisher said: “It’s hard for a small village to hear that its only community space will be closed.

“If the primary school is the only available option then this must be more than just a place-holder – there needs to be a real, workable solution for our groups, our residents and our staff.

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“It needs to be affordable, and we need access to a good kitchen, otherwise all our community-building over the past five years will have come to nothing.”

Recently, the group held a public meeting attended by Councillors Claire Mackie-Brown and Robert Spears, along with the Head of Invest Falkirk Paul Kettrick.

But now they are calling on Falkirk Council to help find a solution to the imminent closure of the hall.

The group has also asked Upper Braes councillors, Claire Mackie-Brown, Siobhan Paterson and Jim Robertson for their support “to ensure a future for projects that help disadvantaged and protected groups.”

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Independent Ms Mackie-Brown, who attended the meeting, said: “These are the only buildings that these communities have but it’s a massive commitment for communities to take them on and some of them won’t be able to.

“We really want to find a way forward and will look at every option available and do what we can to save them.”

Labour’s Councillor Paterson said that she and her party had consistently voted against the closure of community halls, including Avonbridge.

She said: “I only hope that as the harsh reality of these closures come to light that all councillors are able to come together to secure the future of these properties.”