‘We’ve secured 25 years of Warwick community events’

People power has triumphed in Warwick as a team of determined volunteers have finally secured a 25-year lease on the future of the old Coten End Community Centre.

The building, originally a drill hall for troops heading out to fight in the First World War, now offers zumba classes and tango on the first Friday of every month.

More importantly it offers space for toddlers in a Warwick nursery, lessons for adults in art, music and martial arts, extra maths for teenagers struggling in mainstream schools, and clubs for those with physical disabilities.

Last week the committee of six stalwart directors were celebrating reaching the summit of what three years ago had looked like a bureaucratic mountain.

That was when Warwickshire County Council decided to axe the old community centre due to budget cuts.

It was at that point that Roger Beckett and Dave Skinner, who were both governors of Coten End Primary School over the road, decided to try to save the building for the community.

Not least because all the pre-school youngsters who played in the centre would have nowhere to go if their nursery, which had been run as a charity for the past 50 years, was forced to close.

At first there were efforts to persuade the county council to annexe the nursery to the primary school.

But when that idea didn’t appear to be economically acceptable, Roger, along with his wife Sarah Grierson, Dave Skinner, who is involved with disabled groups, Helen Maclagan, Roger Saunders and Daryl Davies were among those who agreed to set up a not-for-profit Social Enterprise Company.

That was when the idea of Warwick Space, or to give it its more “street cred” title, Warwickspace, was first conceived.

Roger, who is an architect, and Sarah, who is a landscape architect, admit that they were better placed than most to assess the needs of the 100-year-old building worth £1.5 million, but with a host of ongoing maintainence issues.

Fortunately, many of the others had complementary skills - not least for fundraising.

All realised that while the county council may not be able to afford the building, it made no sense to “throw away” a place that could continue to offer so much to the local area.

So far £16,000 has been raised from home-grown activities and through grant applications to local charities. Much more will be needed in the future.

But thanks to the new lease, the rent from rooms will now go directly into the Warwickspace coffers to maintain and improve facilities.

Roger, who chairs the group, said: “Sometimes I think we have lost the capacity to realise people can get together and do things for their community.

“Fashions change, line dancing gave way to zumba, barbecues to bake-offs. As new activities evolve, Warwickspace will respond and this valued public space will serve Warwick and the county as a place for people, not profit.”

Although the council felt it could not run and staff the building, the voluntary directors can rent space right back to the county council for classes for young people from River House school who require individual learning. They’ve recently added carpentry, weight-lifting and first aid.

Sarah said: “We also plan to open reminiscence classes for people with dementia and hope the next 25 years will generate many more memories for this community-managed resource.”