£1.3m hub bid group to disband
A COMMUNITY group in the Amman Valley which was at the forefront of plans to develop a former school into a recreation centre is to disband after failing to agree a lease for the site.
The Y Banwen Association wanted to turn the old Ysgol y Glyn – now called Y Banwen – in School Road, Lower Brynamman, into a community hub with plans for a youth centre, community centre, a cafe, and workshops for charities as well as a soft play area, a community garden and an electric bike hire business.
The group, which has spent five years working towards the £1.3 million project, had already secured £100,000 funding which the group says will now be lost because it has been unable to agree on the terms of a lease with the owners of the building Gwaun-cae-gurwen Community Council.
Members of the association said they were “devastated” to no longer be able to take the project forward.
Arwyn Woolcock, chairman of the association and a Neath Port Talbot county councillor for the area, said: “It’s gutwrenching.
“It has been a longstanding wish of the public of Lower Brynamman to have their own community hall, which would bring them into line with the other three villages in the community of Gwauncae-gurwen, where community facilities are available and fully supported by the community council.”
The school, which closed in 2011, was bought in 2016 by the community council for £125,000 after a feasibility study and business plan was developed by the Y Banwen Association.
While a lease was prepared Y Banwen worked with the agreement of the community council to submit bids for funding to enable “essential work” on the site and take forward a phased development approach.
But while initial capital funding for building works was secured – £100,000 from the EU’S Rural Development Programme and around £15,000 from the local authority and other organisations for a new boiler in the lower school – it was all conditional on having a lease.
Members of the Y Banwen Association said the final lease offered allowed for an initial peppercorn rent. However other costs and fees required by the lease were to be the responsibility of Y Banwen.
Mr Woolcock said there were no funds offered to support the utility bills and insurance costs of the site while work was underway.
He said: “The projected level of these costs and a lack of assurance that rent would not be increased following the scheduled rent reviews mean that those involved in Y Banwen could not in all conscience move forward to sign the lease given the level of risk involved.
“It is with great regret therefore that we have to announce that Y Banwen will seek to wind up its activity with immediate effect.”
The association’s secretary, Sonia Reynolds, who is also a county councillor for the area, said: “At a time when public finances are so limited and there are many more calls on the limited charitable resources and grant funding that is available, it is very important that a project the size of Y Banwen Community Hub, is viable in the short-term with the potential to be selfsustaining in the longerterm.
“It was essential for Y Banwen as a group of unpaid volunteers to agree a lease for the site that allowed them to concentrate on securing more than £1 million in capital funds over an extended period to bring the whole site back into full use.
“The lease terms also needed to allow for essential safety work to take place on the outside areas, heating for the lower school that houses the Amman Valley Men’s Shed, and refurbishment of the existing temporary cabin as an initial community hall so that various community groups, including Maerdy Youth, could benefit from using some space as soon as possible.”
She added: “We hope the community council will seek to bring a community hall for Lower Brynamman into being.
“However, the partners will now look at other options that may support that aspiration and bring all of those services envisaged for the total of Y Banwen to reality within the valley.”
The association is a partnership involving local residents, the Tairgwaith community organisation Canolfan Maerdy, Maerdy Youth, and Gwaun Cae Gurwen Community Council.
It was established as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee in May 2017 and had been going through the process of registering as a charity.
Any funds remaining will be donated to support Amman Valley Men’s Shed and Maerdy Youth, its members have said.
Geoff Moore, chairman of Gwaun-cae-gurwen Community Council, said the council had received a letter from the association informing them it was winding up its activity.
He said a special council meeting had been organised for next week to discuss the situation.
The former Ysgol y Glyn lower school building in Lower Brynamman.