A great opportunity for East Lothian communities

During the couple of weeks break that we have had over Christmas, although the work of a Councillor never really stops completely, the council announced that community organisations were to be given the chance to take on an enhanced role in the running of some council owned buildings. This comes following the Community Empowerment Act in 2015 coming into force which strengthened the rights of communities to take a leading role in the management of community facilities.

There are already a number of successful examples of community groups running council facilities, for example, in Cockenzie & Port Seton where the Community Centre is run by a Management Committee. Since they took the Community Centre over it has come on leaps and bounds; being used by more members of the community, the facilities have been enhanced and the centre has also become more responsive to the needs of the local community.

There are other benefits as well to a community group running community assets such as community groups being able to access funding for upgrading that the council is unable to from the likes of Big Lottery Fund.

The Council has identified six sites it believes would be suitable for such an opportunity, these are: East Linton Council Chamber, Gullane Recreation Hall, Macmerry Village Hall, Prestonpans Town Hall, Stoneyhill Community Centre, Musselburgh and Trevelyan Hall, Pencaitland. Although it is not only those facilities are available in theory - any community asset could be taken over in the right circumstances by a Community Group.

Prestonpans Town Hall in my ward is a perfect example of a building in the community that is underutilised and needs a new lease of life and the right group could give it exactly that. It used to be the heart of the town and with the right people running the hall it could be again, as well as helping to reinvigorate the High Street.

The Council has now opened a three-month window for community organisations to get in touch to note an expression of interest in getting involved with the running of the facilities. It’s worth pointing out that doesn’t mean that all the details need to be completed in that time. I would encourage any organisations that think they could make good use of a council owned facility to get in touch with the council.

The council will then evaluate the expressions of interest received. On completion of this consultation, a final recommendation will be brought forward to the Councillors by officers seeking approval for each of the intended future purpose of each asset. I think that this is a really interesting opportunity for communities and could do wonders for the under-used spaces in them.

This being the first column since it occurred, I also wanted to quickly take the opportunity to congratulate Longniddry Primary School on becoming the only Primary School in East Lothian to hold UNICEF’s Gold Right Respecting Schools status. The award recognises the school’s work embedding children’s rights in its policy, practices and culture. There are only 394 schools in the whole of the UK that hold the Gold award and it’s great that Longniddry is now one of them.