Community Assets

including leisure facilities like swimming baths, community halls should be sold off and run by private companies for the benefit of the local population.

Why do I say that, because it makes sense. A firm like Pontins for example runs family entertainment since 1946 and do so to the satisfaction of their customers and with great pride, professionalism and dedication.

They know how to make the most of a resource and do it at an excellent standard and within the legal framework.

I miss this with community centres as I have experienced some that are run in a manner that is not compliant with current laws but there are no audits to ascertain their legal liabilities and their financial incomes rely on ability of volunteers to claim available funds.

Persons running community centre are not democratically elected and so do not represent the local preferences. Once in charge of a facility no one stops them from mismanagement.

A commercial approach would more than likely improve leisure and educational services to the locals wherever they are. But the current hipple di hopple of who owns what and finances what causes a great strain on services. Colleges are closed down, libraries diminish, baths are frequently under threat of closure.

When I recently spent some time at a Pontins holiday camp I started to think, why can’t we have something like this in our locality. Our lives would be brilliant if each estate had such blissful organisation of our daily lives and there is something for each and everyone, old, young, families, single people.

A company running community facilities on a national basis also would be able to draw on bigger resources than our local councils can who struggle to keep facilities open and cannot maintain good quality services or even carry out quality control on the services on offer.

Some community services flout laws, e.g. do not have all licences required, volunteers do not have sufficient legal knowledge and facilities are poorly maintained by volunteers who may or may not have a good attitude to “customer services”.

Why should councils constantly be lumbered with being Jacks of all trades, e.g. housing, care for children, elderly and learners, special needs, sport, housing, refuse, roads etc., etc.?

It would be better to allow community development, entertainment, sports to be provided by private services providers who would be careful to provide services that are popular and not just things that only best friends of whoever is in charge of facilities can use.

The details of privatisation of communal facilities are a matter of discussion but it would be a good step forward if government could make some steps towards it so that we all can start to enjoy local facilities.

I noticed that especially in an area with a neighbourhood watch that any community facility not run to legal requirements automatically puts itself on a wrong footing with the neighbourhood watch whose function it is to enforce law obedience.

In our estate for example we had the ridiculous situation that the TRA is in charge of a community centre that produced much noise to the annoyance of the local residents, which required the Neighbourhood Watch to step in and though now resolved such problems should not occur in the first place. I don’t think a community centre is only a community centre if it is run by unpaid volunteers. We could not possibly expect people with good abilities to waste away their lives working at the local community centre without any wages so that tax payers had to pay for their benefits for the rest of their lives. Such volunteers would not have equal changes to find employment if they have the ability to hold down a proper job.

This  concept of volunteer run community facilities does not produce satisfactory community services. The situation in London is very volatile, when I returned from my recent half-term break, first thing I was confronted with fire engines, police cars and ambulances with blazing sirens, something one hardly sees in the good old English/British country side. The social balance is tipping and what we do not need are untrained volunteers running community centres and events, which are not professionally standardised and/or do not comply with legal regulations.

I should say that a London wide or at least borough wide system of leisure facilities run by professional companies, specialising in this will do us a lot of good and repair our broken society. At the moment, all we get is do not open your door to strangers, but strangers are often alerted to vulnerable persons via Internet sites.

People do not know whom to trust any longer and especially lonely and vulnerable citizens often fall prey to e-mail, Internet and mailing scams. So what we need are social facilities that are professionally manned, run to good standards that provide meeting places for our residents, so that people can get to know their neighbours again in safety.

As I indicated above, it is not much use to have community centres  that are run by volunteers and are run in a  manner that they produce anti-social behaviour. Councils are wrong to hand over community halls and venues to untrained volunteers to run them as they like. In the case of the Parkview estate and the Glasshouse, we do not have any firm controls when children’s services are taking place and the financing of the venue is not certain. I certainly completely regret now having lobbied Tower Hamlets Council for funding for the Glasshouse to be run by volunteers, it was a mistake.

One cannot guarantee that volunteers know their legal obligations, e.g. not to take photos without permission, not to publish photos that have been taken without permission, to get licenses for playing music, to obey to noise restrictions. Those type of events should be run by professionally trained persons who get paid for doing so and not by volunteers who should be out looking for work instead.

I reckon Tower Hamlets would see a marked improvement in social relations and a reduction in anti-social behaviour had we professionally run services throughout by companies who know what they are doing. So far what I saw volunteers have neither the equipment not the monies to provide adequate services.

I have been invited to meet a Home Office minister next week and also to workshops with Tower Hamlets Homes on how to reduce anti-social behaviour and I think that professionally run community leisure services play a key part in this.

Of course the commercial viability is a question to be examined closer but if commercial companies can run a complete set of community leisure and sports services they can in my view make it worth their while.

But I have written to the Democratic Services at the LBTH town hall at Mulberry Place to officially withdraw my support for the petition delivered to the council on 15 July 2009, asking for funding for the Glasshouse to be run by volunteers. It was ill-conceived but made with good intentions. I have also withdrawn support for the idea that the Glasshouse could provide holiday services for children run by volunteers.

We need affordable professionally run community services, allowing locals to have their weddings and parties at a venue that is well-run and run within all legal requirements to make it an enjoyable event in safe and pleasant, well-maintained surroundings.


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