Early spring is the planned opening of the newly refurbished and resurrected community centre in Forest Fields. The centre, which is behind Forest Fields Primary School, has been closed now for more than a
year. The centre will be run by a consortium of local community groups. What the centre is used for – whether it is a space for baby and parents groups, kids clubs, ESOL classes, Asian youth or whatever else – will largely depend on this consortium.
There is so little space that people in the community can use in Forest Fields, and opening a new centre here at a time when welfare resources are being further and systematically decimated is an opportunity worth grabbing. Giving a centre like this a new lease of life could be a really useful resource that could help us to help ourselves as a community. If it is used by – and useful for – different parts of the Forest Fields community, then it could be a much needed injection of energy into the neighbourhood.
But there is always the risk that it will serve the interests of a select few and, if this is the case, ultimately fail to be what it says it is: a community hub. In particular, local politics can make things difficult. With community projects like this one, the usual practice of the council is to tender out the contract to competing groups, with one group coming out on top. When this happens, power tends to get concentrated in the hands of a few, with the residents having little say over what takes place. More often than not, the group is not even rooted in the local area.
As a means of making sure this doesn’t happen, earlier in November Toby Neal, Carol Jones and Mohammed Ibrahim, the councillors representing Berridge Ward on Notts City Council, called a meeting with an invited a bunch of community groups to discuss plans for the centre and cooperating as a consortium. Bringing groups together in this way is a positive step that could be a remedy to the usual political pitfalls. But we are concerned by some parts of the process so far. Why was it that almost half of the people who attended the meeting were not residents of Forest Fields? When will there be a chance for people living in the neighbourhood (beyond those involved in community groups) to have their say on this centre? How will residents be able to have a say over how the centre is run and, more importantly, what the space is used for?
In the coming months there are likely to be more meetings, including a public meeting some time in the new year. We’re holding out hope that the community centre will really be a space that is run by and benefits the local community. After all, what else is it there for? Lets hold our councillors to their claim to want it to be such a space.