Appeal for public support in first steps to reopen the CA Club

August 05 2018
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There is little doubt that the problems experienced at the CA Club in Romney Avenue have been some of the most difficult to understand and unravel, they are surrounded by legalities that are unique to charities.

We think that it is best to start by taking a look at it’s history.

Tenants of the new Council Housing estate in Lockleaze built their own community centre with voluntary labour which took over four years . This was a large wooden building on Gainsborough Square built with materials donated by the Army Purdown camp. They were leased land at Gainsborough square from the Council, that was eventually given into community ownership (where the Hub now is) and Cameron Walk/Romney which was then passed to Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust in 1997.  

The Community Association was officially registered as a charity in 1963, these were their charitable objectives:

To promote the well-being of the community resident in Lockleaze in the City and County of Bristol (hereinafter referred to as "the neighbourhood") by associating the Local Authorities voluntary organizations and residents in a common effort to advance education and to provide facilities for physical and mental training and recreation and social moral and intellectual development and to further health and to establish or to secure the establishment of a Community Centre and to maintain and manage or to co-operate with any local statutory authority or authorities in the maintenance and management of such a centre for activities promoted by the said Association and its constituent bodies in furtherance of the above objects or any of them

In 1987, the Lockleaze Community Association Social Club was set up as a bar and social club on the premises, affiliated to Lockleaze Community Association to whom it paid rent and returned any profits. In 2012, plans were made for a new building for the Community Association and members voted to support the new development made possible by the sale of the community land at Gainsborough Square that had lain derelict for many years. The sale of this property raised around  £650,000 which allowed for new premises to be built on the Romney Avenue site.

The Meeting

The meeting was held at a packed Hub on Saturday, 23rd June. It was evident that a lot of the attendees were previous users of the club and that a good many of them had lived in Lockleaze all their lives.

The meeting was chaired by Di Robinson, an independent chairperson from the south of the city. Both of Lockleaze’s councillors, Estella Tincknell and Gill Kirk were present as was Suzanne Wilson, the CEO of Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust.

Suzanne Wilson said the publicly available information from the Charity Commission said the charity trustees were: Alan Richards, Harry Webb, David Amesbury, Craig Lewis, Karl Lewis and Tracey Bailey. The directors of the Social Club were Alan Richards, Harry Webb, Tracey Bailey, Mike Elliott, Craig Lewis, and Karl Lewis.

Suzanne went on to introduce herself as the Chief Executive of the Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust , which runs the Hub, and the Cameron Centre and supports a range of activities with and for the community. As with the CA, they also are a charity set up for the benefit of Lockleaze. Her understanding was that the Social Club had been set up as a legitimate tax break to support and invest back into the charity (the CA). However, what had happened in the subsequent years that instead of being a commercial venture of the charity, it became the only activity that was undertaken, and the wider community activity that the CA was supposed to undertake fell away and did not happen.

There had been a number of concerns identified over the way the organisations had operated. Firstly, was financial management, and people could not see the accounts of the organisation and where money was being received and spent. Secondly, there was concerns over governance - who was in charge and who was running what, and confusion over there being two organisations - the charity and the social club, which should never have been confused.

In putting together a new proposal for what to do on the site, Suzanne had identified three main aims. Firstly, the proposal had to be financially sound - no-one wanted to see things open up only for it to fail and close again. Secondly, there needed to be good governance, there was a need to make sure the operations were meeting the charitable objectives that Councillor Kirk had previously set out - this was non-negotiable as there were restrictions on how the land and buildings could be used, and is a requirement of the Charity Commission

in terms of how charities are run. Finally, it needed to be for the whole community and inclusive, where everyone feels welcome. At the moment, Suzanne felt that it was a massive building to hold just a function room and a bar, and there was a risk that if you ended up with too big a facility the the amount of money could make would not meet the costs of keeping it open. Suzanne’s experience of running the two community buildings was that the biggest costs are likely to be staffing, and utilities (gas, electric etc.). Therefore, the LNT’s proposal was to make some changes to make the building multi-use.

Looking at the size of the building, LNT believed that there was probably space for up to 3 different activities in there. This would mean that there could still be a bar (which people clearly said they wanted) with cafe facilities, and with space to do something else.

Suzanne noted that she understood the point of things being there and not being used, and this was the reason for looking for a proposal to get the CA open again, as at present there is a building that is closed, and isn’t benefiting the community. LNT felt that they already know how to run a public organisation that benefits the community (the Board of LNT is made up of over 50% of Lockleaze residents), have recently conducted a significant community survey which received nearly 700 responses which told them what people in Lockleaze wanted, and recognised that they also need to ensure that all community provision in Lockleaze in sustainable so it would still be there in 20 years time, and beyond.

The Chairperson summarised that the proposal therefore was the building be used for a number of things, and these needed to work for the community, but also pay to keep the whole thing running. She invited reflections and questions from the community on the proposal.

A member of the public stated that people have got used to it just being the social club and that was all it was, but if there was the possibility of having other things in there that would allow a bar to reopen, then why not just do it?

A question was asked of whether anyone had been made accountable for the position that we were currently in, noting in the past that people had asked to have meetings and see the accounts? Suzanne responded that she could only respond based on what she had found out about it after she became involved after it closed. She was concerned that there could have been fraud, and had heard that the trustees, who were legally responsible, said they didn’t know what was going on. The accountant who had returned the forms to the Charity Commission with these peoples names on it was not a qualified accountant, and was a bookkeeper, and had said that he just automatically returned the same thing year on year and didn’t question things. So while all of this has come to light recently, this has been an ongoing issue for years and years.

A question was asked as to who was actually in charge, and who would be in charge in this proposal? Suzanne responded that the process with VOSCUR was intended to prove that the existing trustees (who are technically in charge even though inactive) were not going to act. Therefore the Charity Commission could use powers to elect new trustees. Suzanne felt there was an opportunity to bring the CA and the LNT together, as both had similar objectives, and for the building to be owned and operated by LNT. Alternatively, in the Articles of Association for the CA there are details of a process of how new trustees can be appointed and reported to the Charity Commission.

A member of the public stated they understood the building belonged to the community of Lockleaze, and not to any organisation. Suzanne stated that the building legally belongs to the CA, which is a charity for the community of Lockleaze, which has to do the things that the Councillor Kirk had previously read out. It was previously run by by members, and anyone in Lockleaze over the age of 18 can be a member. So it is right to say it is for the community of Lockleaze, but the CA is the custodian of that, and it could be argued that they have not been a good custodian, and so the question now is how do we get it back fo the people of Lockleaze?

A member of the public made a statement that they felt the business of the social club had not been run effectively, in particular that the prices of items would not seem accurate to match the costs. He questioned whether the CA was in debt. Suzanne responded that she understood that the Social Club was in debt, somewhere in the region of £50k - 75k. The CA (the charity) as far as was known at the moment from publicly available information was that it was not in debt, but this could not be said for sure.

A member of the public noted that they previously worked in the Social Club, and felt there had been discrepancies between the takings of the organisation and that which was later banked. They questioned whether this should be looked into. Suzanne responded that this was a good question, but again not something that she was able to pursue. She highlighted that whilst she’d heard reports of wrongdoing, there was a lack of available records, which she had been told either had been destroyed or did not exist, making it difficult to prove anything. Overall the record keeping in recent years was very poor, and was a good example of why it needed proper oversight and governance in the future, and why she felt that a good use of effort now would be to try to get it open and running again.

A member of the public made a statement that they felt that what this group of people assembled needed to do was to focus on getting the CA back, and getting it back up and running. They felt that something could come from today and they could get this going. This statement received wide support from the meeting with a round of applause.The chairperson asked as there were no more questions whether any persons present wished to put forward alternative proposals than that presented by the mixed use model proposed by the LNT.

A member of the public stated that they were speaking on behalf of another person - ‘Steve from the pub’ - and stated that they had offered to pay all the debts of the CA, and get it open, and work with the LNT so that community events could take place in there, with money being put back into the community. It was stated that this offer could be made in writing, but it was not at present. Another member of the public expressed concern that even if these other elements of the proposal went ahead, the bar would not be reopened. The chairperson noted that she was aware of a lot of other community facilities that have bar, cafe/restaurant facilities as well as a range of other uses within them.

A member of the public made a statement that they were a longtime resident of Lockleaze, and said they recalled when the CA operated with a range of things, such as a toddlers group, and the Advice Centre operating from upstairs. They stated they recognised the need to operate other things, for the community.

A member of the public made a statement that they had been a member of the CA and had never found it to be a clique, but does know now from speaking with people that what everyone wants is something to bring the community together and weave it together. In particular, it had to be somewhere that was family orientated and drug free. There was particular support from the meeting for this final statement, which received a round of Applause.

The chairperson reiterated their question of whether any other party wished to come forward with any alternative proposal.

The chairperson suggested that there should now be a break in the meeting to allow members of the community to put down their suggestions. There were two questions that were put to the meeting - what is it that they wanted to keep from the old CA operation, and what is it they wanted that would be new. The chairperson highlighted the importance of people putting down their ideas now, a she welcomed the strength of feeling from the meeting that what happens in the building is of the people, and for the people, and the ideas need to be taken from the community.

The chairperson, assisted by Helen Bone who does some work for Quartet Community Foundation, fed back to the meeting the ideas that had been put down by the community.

Starting initially with the feedback of what people wanted to keep from the old CA, she noted that there was a really strong theme that people wanted to have a bar, and it was clear that this was wanted for all of the family - from the cradle to the grave, and it was felt to be really important that it could be somewhere where you would go with your kids.

There was feedback that people wanted it to going back to being a family club, and also that it should be affordable for the community.

Turning to the question of what new things people might want to see, feedback suggested people would want to see youth activities as part of it, for example on certain evenings. There was also a suggestion to run holiday clubs and holiday activities, and also things like lunch clubs that older persons might enjoy. It was highlighted that if different things were going to operate from the building then it need to be clear that there were different spaces for them.

A member of the public asked a question as to what timescale was expected to get things open again. The chairperson responded that they didn’t know, but that the proposal from Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust was intended to try to get things moving again. The chairperson noted that they could not do that independently, and asked for ideas from the meeting as to how people wanted to keep things moving and how people wanted to move things forward.

Helen Bone identified that she did some work for Quartet Community Foundation and noted their role is give to grants in Bristol to people who want to get things done in the community. She felt that if the group of ex-members could work together with the Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust on their proposal with the aim of getting a community facility up and running, then this is something they would consider an application for, which would give funding that could address some of the costs associated with getting the facility up and running. This received support from the meeting with a round of applause.

Suzanne confirmed LNT would be happy to have discussions with the group of ex-members to look at how things could be brought together, and would be happy to arrange a  meeting soon. The chairperson noted that this seemed to represent a reasonable conclusion from this meeting, and while this looked like a significant mountain to climb she was impressed that with the strength of feeling she was very hopeful that the community could make this happen, and looked forward to the day the she would be invited to the reopening for a pint.

She noted that the LNT would take away the outputs from the meeting, would hold further discussions with the Councillors and look to find ways of keeping the community updated, and that the group of ex-members would work with the LNT to look at bringing their efforts together.

What has happened since

What has happened since the meeting?|

LNT are working with a group of LCA members: Kevin Plenty, Ian Bell, Heidi and Sharon. There is much to achieve; the charity trustees have to be changed and a business plan has to be written but a start has been made.

Heidi, Dawn and Sharon appeal to you for your support in getting the charity going as the first of many steps in getting the club back open. They say: “Over a year and a half ago, we had our New Year’s party at our community club, the next day we heard it had closed it doors, gates were locked and members couldn’t get in. It didn’t make any sense and we didn’t know what had happened. There had been no notification  to members, we didn’t understand. We hadn’t had meetings and discussions of the finances in a while, looking back that was a mistake, but asking questions sometimes got your barred, still we knew it was our club and we wanted to get it open. Lots of us former members got together to see how we could get it open. Over the coming months it emerged that it had run up a lot of debts, and there was some confusion about whether the social club or the charity owned the land or the building. We did lots of digging, members contributed their own funds to pay for solicitors fees, we talked to breweries, and had a plan. Then the Hub (Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust) said they had a plan to open it and we worried they would steal our club. There was a meeting on 23 June loads of members turned up to say they wanted their club, we were heard and we started working with the Hub to see how together we could get the charity running and we could support setting up and running the club again.

“Working  together doesn’t mean its plain sailing, there are lots of tricky things to work out, including getting the charity back and running, then setting up the club, then paying for refurb, tables, chairs, drinks and everything. Sometimes we think if we knew how  difficult it would be at the start we wouldn’t have started it. But in our hearts we know that we love our community, we love the Christmas meals for OAPs, the family day where we have a go at wobbly face-painting, the sense that this place is ours and we love it. We want that back.  There’s no glory for us in this, its not about a few individuals, its about our whole community coming together to make it right. We want it to be affordable, a safe place where everyone is welcome; the heart of community. Not just for old timers like us but also for all the new homes that are coming, we need to keep places open so there is somewhere to go. So we hope that you will support us when we ask you to vote for us as charity trustees on 15 September so we can get the charity going again, but whether its us or someone else we will do everything we can to get our club back open”.

 

Heidi,  Dawn, Sharon