College must step up search for alternative venue after opposition to dual use of Houghton Regis community centre

Groups and organisations were forced to relocate

By Euan Duncan
Friday, 28th January 2022, 11:50 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 10:32 am

The onus looks like being put on Central Bedfordshire College to find suitable alternative premises to teach around 50 vulnerable students who were moved out of Dunstable at short notice.

The group were relocated to Bedford Square community centre in Houghton Regis, after an independent alternative schooling operator Develop Dunstable became insolvent last year.

The centre is the only one Central Bedfordshire Council operates, assistant director assets Iain Berry told a corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee meeting on January 27.

Houghton Regis Community Centre (Google)

Houghton Regis Town Council ran the facility at one stage, he revealed, adding that two community meeting spaces are in the pipeline at the new All Saints View development.

Local councillors said the decision has angered residents, led to groups and organisations being forced to relocate, and they criticised a lack of communication by the local authority.

"The centre enables the students to have a safe place to grow in confidence, which is bringing about positive change, strengthening their life skills and allowing them to thrive," vice principal Sarah Mortimer explained in an email.

"Without the facilities provided by the community this wouldn't have been possible.

"The success of this site and its educational range is because the college has created an identity for the centre, known as the Houghton Regis Learning Hub.

"Students, parents, carers and families can have a sense of place linked to their academic education.

"The majority of the students have struggled to engage fully in education before coming to the hub and have little or no self-confidence in learning as a result."

Liberal Democrat Houghton Hall councillor Susan Goodchild remembered the town council running the community centre for a trial period.

"But the communication between the town council and assets enabling them to undertake bookings was so shockingly bad they couldn't carry on with it," she explained. "That was a great opportunity lost.

"The running costs are £37,816.80 per annum. For what it provides for the community of Houghton Regis that's astonishing good value for money.

"This isn't about money unless there are financial issues neither CBC or Central Bedfordshire College are willing to share in the public domain.

"With better management and promotion the centre would have been better used. What's happened has been extremely harmful. It's caused division and there was no need for it.

"Has the college done anything to find alternative accommodation?" she asked. "There are more questions than answers.

"The college will vacate the premises when it suits them and the council will argue the facility is redundant and look towards redevelopment."

Liberal Democrat Houghton Hall councillor Yvonne Farrell said: "There was light at the end of the tunnel that groups could meet after being in isolation for so long because of the pandemic. It's no wonder everyone was extremely sad and very angry.

"Some of the clubs and organisations have relocated, but it's not the same as they could leave their equipment in storage.

"The shops must be suffering. The area is like a ghost town. The outcome will depend on what suitable facilities are offered in All Saints View when it opens."

Independent Flitwick councillor Gareth Mackey noted that "special schools provision is focused on the edge of the Central Bedfordshire area, nothing in the centre".

He suggested the Rufus Centre, which used to be a school, might be one of a number of potential venues.

"We're providing a get out here," he said. "The college should be far more open about what its contingency measures are."

The committee recommended that the college should source an appropriate long-term venue by the Spring. The Executive will make a decision on the matter next Tuesday (February 8).