SYMBOLIC lanterns of defiance were released by parents, children and volunteers over a Burnley community centre that may be forced to scrap vital services due to a Lancashire County Council decision.
As reported in the Express, Lancashire County Council announced recently that it intends to charge community groups for the use of its buildings – forcing groups to make tough decisions over whether to charge or scrap some of their services – put on for children in some of the poorest parts of the country.
The county council’s Corporate Property Group wrote to community groups on August 18th, saying charges would come into effect from September 1st, although this has been put back to December 31st.
One such group meets at Stoops and Hargher Clough Community Centre, Venice Street, where volunteers have now launched a campaign urging the county council to think again.
This took place at the end of the annual Volunteer’s Night, held to celebrate the vital contribution they make to their community, which around 100 people attended.
Community group spokesman Chris Keene said: “We had a wonderful time at our awards night, although the usual sense of celebration was mixed with a very real concern that the county council’s actions could lead to this being the last one that we will be able to spend in our own community centre.
“The spectre of the as yet unannounced charges hung over the whole night, but we still made sure that the award winners knew how much we value the contributions they make to community life.
“The launching of the lanterns was a symbolic act and there was a big cheer as each one floated into the sky. This shows we’re committed to continuing our campaign to urge Property Group to recognise that voluntary groups contribute a great deal towards community life.
“We once again call upon Lancashire County Council to delay the introduction of charges until at least April 1st next year, which would allow for a period of proper consultation, along with a further period of six to 12 months to enable unfunded voluntary groups to develop a fund-raising strategy to meet the costs.”
But the leader of Lancashire County Council, County Coun. Geoff Driver, defended the decision.
He said: “The changes to the charging policy were never intended to cause financial hardship to voluntary bodies and specific provision was made in the budget to prevent this. It is a pity that Mr Keene chose to proceed in this way rather than continue to talk to the county council. I am sure we could have reassured him.”