A vital sports facility which appeared almost certain to be lost to the community for good has been saved.
The heroes of the hour are Falkirk FC Foundation and the Comely Park Primary School parent council, who teamed up and came through to win the day for Falkirk’s Woodlands Games Hall.
Last year the future of the Cochrane Street premises was in doubt after Falkirk Community Trust revealed it was struggling to keep it open due to financial pressure.
It was one of four trust facilities targeted for closure to save money, but after that idea was rejected by Falkirk Council, the parents and the football club stepped up with a business case to operate it on behalf of the community as a financially viable and sustainable social enterprise.
Falkirk Foundation, the charity arm of Falkirk FC, has now partnered with the parent council to create the Woodlands Community Sports social enterprise to run and manage the facility themselves following a Community Asset Transfer from Falkirk Council.
Over the past six months, the key stakeholders comprising Falkirk Foundation, Comely Park Parent Council, Falkirk Council and Falkirk Community Trust have worked closely together to deliver the community enterprise model.
Falkirk Foundation chief executive Craig Campbell said: “This is a brilliant example of true partnership between the local council and the local community, working for the benefit of local children.
“The new investment we are delivering will create a first-class facility for young children to play sport and will bring fresh energy to a facility right in the centre of Falkirk.”
Under the proposal, which has been formally approved by Falkirk Council’s executive committee, £200,000 of new capital secured from the Landfill Communities Fund will be invested in the run-down facility to bring it back into full use for the local community.
The first stage of the proposal will see the replacement of the existing astro football pitch, new equipment and floodlighting so the new facility can be operational by March 2017.
Facilities will include a brand new 3g 11-a-side football pitch and an indoor sports hall capable of hosting basketball, football, badminton and more.
The second stage of the proposal will involve a fresh capital fundraising to invest in the Woodlands Games Hall building and, following this, Woodlands Community Sports, the newly-created social enterprise, will enter into a 25-year lease with Falkirk Council to run and manage the facility.
Mel Brookes, joint chair of Comely Park parent council, said: “After many months of hard work, we’re delighted to have been able to secure the future of sports and activities for the children of Comely Park and the local area.
“We’re convinced this project will provide a blueprint for other community groups to follow in future years.”
It is hoped the new enterprise will deliver 139,000 hours of children’s physical activity every year, give full unrestricted access to Comely Park Primary School during term times, cater to 18,000 volunteer hours every year and create a reserve fund for future pitch replacement.
Doug Henderson, Chairman of Falkirk Football Club commented: “This will be a good boost for the local community in the Woodlands area and the wider community in Falkirk.
“I have always believed that preserving local sporting facilities is a vital part of promoting activities that are important for health and fun.”
Mr Campbell added: “We believe this will inspire other community organisations throughout Scotland to look at how they can secure the long-term provision of facilities in their own areas through Community Asset Transfer.”
There are a number of facilities in the same position Woodlands was in – proposals for Falkirk Council to manage a £20 million deficit next year are seeking to close around 20 properties and halls to trim £190,000 from the annual bills.
To save the centres, the council wants communities to form management committees to run them and is currently in talks with communities to discuss how this can be achieved for around 20 properties around the area, including Bainsford, Laurieston, Brightons and Grangemouth.
The Grange After-School Project, which operates in the Grange Centre in Brightons, is just one of the groups concerned about the future.
The not-for-profit business offers hard-working parents the option of after school care until they finish work and provide their service to 53 local families and 70 children each school day, employing five members of staff.
Speaking earlier this year, project chairperson Laura Shanks said: “A closure to our centre would have far-reaching consequences in this community. Our group is just one of a huge list of groups and clubs that use the Grange Centre and all the events are well attended.
“The really worrying thing is that we are asking for all the information on what it would mean to run the centre like staffing and pensions to then make a decision on whether it can be done, but the council can’t seem to give that information.”
A decision on the council’s proposals for “facility withdrawal” has been deferred until February to give officers time to engage with various groups.
Visit www.falkirk.gov.uk/budget for more.