All over Leeds, groups of volunteers are taking responsibility for running their own communities. Stuart Robinson reports
THINK about a takeover, and straight away you’ll probably imagine a stuffy boardroom filled with anxious, suit-wearing businessmen, wrestling for control of some faceless corporation.
But here in Leeds, a more grass roots kind of change is slowly but surely gathering pace.
Takeovers of community services and facilities by determined and business-savvy local groups – known as Community Asset Transfers – have been happening all across the city, spearheaded by those who don’t want to see local services fall victim to cuts and the financial downturn.
As recently as last month, the YEP reported on Bramley Elderly Action’s takeover of Bramley Lawn.
The formerly council-run centre closed around two years ago and has since been standing empty.
Lee Ingham, manager of Bramley Elderly Action, based just a short distance away, spotted the perfect chance to help the community’s older people even more in a facility going to waste.
He told the YEP: “I drove past it every day on my way to work and I just thought it seemed like such a waste.
“So we spoke to the council and came up with a business plan which they liked and it’s a perfect fit in terms of what we do and a good fit in terms of what the community wants.”
The charity are looking to expand their base at the centre and provide additional community services. They are set to take over the building on a 25-year peppercorn lease.
And crucially they’ve asked local people what they want to see at the new venue.
Mr Ingham thinks giving the community ownership of what happens there is key to making a go of the new venture – which is expected to cost between £20,000 and £30,000 a year to run.
He said: “I have a list in my office of ideas that people have come up with for what they want to see there. We work with local elderly people – they’re my boss.
“People identify with it that way – it’s going to be Bramley Lawn and it’s going to belong to the people of Bramley and Stanningley.”
Bramley Lawn wasn’t the only community-led takeover to be approved this year either.
At the same time, the council approved Holbeck Youth Centre being run by current tenant Health for All Leeds Ltd (HFA), who will renovate the building and expand its services.
And earlier this year the Friends of Bramley Baths – who have run a high-profile campaign to save the historic Edwardian pool – announced that they will officially take over management of the building in December, with the doors set to open in January.
These success stories, and others, have proved a huge inspiration for other groups across the city, who want to see precious resources in the hands of those with roots in their local area.
In Rothwell, members of the newly-formed Dolphin Manor Trust are drafting proposals to take control of the Dolphin Manor Care Home, in Stone Brig Lane, Rothwell, by April next year.
A team of 10 former councillors, health care experts and relatives of residents are aiming to take over the 23-year-old home from Leeds City Council.
And a locally-led consortium in Headingley have been desperately trying to raise the cash to transform the former Royal Park Primary School, on Queens Road in Hyde Park, into a community centre.
Sally-Anne Greenfield, chief executive of the Leeds Community Foundation, believes local and national cuts combined with new Government initiatives have changed the way people think about how local services can be delivered, sparking the wave of takeovers.
She told the YEP: “The councils are beginning to look at the assets they’ve got and see that they could be in better hands if they were run by the community. Community groups can use some volunteers and some paid staff and they have access to other sources of funding.
“Councils are having to make cuts and the Big Society idea is challenging local people and saying to them, ‘if you don’t like what’s happening, you can do something about it’.”
And it looks as though more and more local assets could end up being run by the community.
Senior councillors are set to meet next month to see how they can make future Community Asset Transfers work better.
And they’ll be throwing down the gauntlet to even more groups and asking them to step forward if they think they’re up to the task.
Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Particular buildings and pieces of land can bring enormous benefit, and have huge significance, to individual communities – providing, for example, a base for local services. However, huge financial pressure means the council simply can’t afford to hold on to all of its buildings or provide services in the way it has done until now.
“Community Asset Transfer is one way for local people or voluntary groups to step in and take charge of buildings so that they continue to benefit the community.
“As the example of Bramley Baths shows, these innovative arrangements have the potential to really make the most of the talent, drive and determination of residents and voluntary groups.
“As a council we want to see Community Asset Transfers succeed. That’s why the council’s Executive Board will be discussing how we can do more to make these arrangements work in Leeds when it meets in September. I would encourage any local group interested in community asset transfer to come and talk to the council about their ideas.”