“Keep Youfie Open” read one of the signs brought into Marlborough Town Council’s meeting on Monday evening (March 6.) Another sign read - with a cheeky threat: "Keep Youfie open - or else!"
About twenty-five young people who use the Youth Centre, supported by a few adults, came to hear what councillors were going to decide about Marlborough’s Youth Centre – which Wiltshire Council is closing in May.
They arrived looking very apprehensive about the future of their Youth Centre. Many had to stand throughout the meeting. But they left with thumb-up gestures and smiles - Councillors had voted to save Marlborough's Youth Centre for at least seven years.
With Wiltshire Council freezing any further transfer of assets it owns overto town council ownership, the only way to save the Youth Centre was County Hall’s offer of a seven year repairing lease at a peppercorn rent.
The Centre is currently being used by Barnados and by the Marlborough Community Youth Group (MCYG) and the tone of the debate was set by three questions put to Councillors by young people:
• “Why haven’t Wiltshire Council maintained the building and if we take it over will Wiltshire Council get the repairs done first?”
• “What does Wiltshire Council propose to do with the remaining equipment in the Youth Centre?”
And thirdly and the most basic question of all:
• “If the Town Council don’t take over the Youth Centre, where will we all go?”
Councillor Lisa Farrell, who with Councillor Cook and others, has made such a success of the MCYG, picked up that last question: “This means a lot to me, this Youth Centre. These kids have nothing else in Marlborough. It needs to be a community project. I don’t want to let these kids down.”
The Town Council has had a building survey carried out: “Overall the building is in sound structural condition.” There are, however, expensive ‘buts’: about £10,000 of external repairs need to be done and a minimum of some £56,000 of internal work – including the removal of asbestos.
This survey has not been published. No one asked why on earth Wiltshire Council had not removed the asbestos years ago.
The annual costs of running the building are about £22,280. Councillor Mervyn Hall reckoned that to meet those costs they would need to hire it out for 50 hours every week at £10 per hour: “I believe we can do that.”
Most councillors wanted to go for the seven year lease – with the right clauses in the lease to allow maximum lettings and so meet those costs. Once that lease was in place, they could then lobby Wiltshire hard to agree to a Community Asset Transfer – so it could belong to Marlborough for community use.
Councillor Nick Fogg put forward a counter strategy: “That Wiltshire Council has shown no interest in this building and in the youth of the town and area is disgraceful. It is appalling it is to be closed in May.”
“Wiltshire Council should have spent money on its upkeep. The need to spend a minimum of £56,000 is - again - disgraceful.”
“We want a Community Asset Transfer now. We will run the Centre well.”
But time before the May closure is short - and once closed would it ever reopen? Councillor Stewart Dobson countered: “We must go for the seven year lease.” And with one vote against, Councillors agreed with him.
A working party of Councillors will be set up to oversee the lease. And as soon as possible its membership will be widened to include pubic involvement and young people.
Councillor Lisa Farrell: “I personally think the community should be involved right from the start – with a strong voice from the young people of the town.
There is one somewhat alarming element to all this. The Town Clerk’s report to the meeting stated: “Wiltshire Council is still looking at options for the building and the site…”
When the land was passed by the (then) Marlborough Borough Council to Wiltshire Council, the conveyancing deed included two strong provisions that land and building could only be used for a ‘Youth Centre or similar public purpose’ – and that use had to be approved by the (now) Town Council.
As one councillor said: remember what happened to the land off Rabley Wood View which had to be used as public amenity land ‘in perpetuity’ – until Wiltshire Council’s lawyers decided that ‘in perpetuity’ is meaningless legal jargon.