Community groups ‘left with ‘former bike shop for meetings’ as building becomes private cafe

Plans to convert a community building in Kirkby into a private cafe have angered neighbors.

The Mill Dam park building, known locally as ‘The Shed’, was built in 2019 as a replacement for the previous two-story community building which housed groups such as the Sea Cadets, Pedal Away and the Kirkby Walking Group.

But all previous users have left Mill Dam Park, saying the new building was not fit for purpose, and the council has now agreed to let most of The Shed cafe in Espositos with only a small room reserved for community use.

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Accusing Knowsley Council of ‘hubris’, independent adviser Steve Smith said: ‘This is just another Kirkby installation replaced by a substandard product. Is this all Kirkby and our children deserve?

The council said the park had received significant investment and the replacement of the community building followed ‘extensive public consultation’ and said cafe owners would be happy to ‘explore’ community groups using the space during the evenings when the business was closed.

But Cllr Smith said: “If the consultation was so comprehensive, the question must be asked, why isn’t a member of the original stakeholder group brought into the building?”

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Four-year process to secure the new building

For years Mill Dam Park has been home to one of Europe’s largest adventure playgrounds and has organized activities and days out for children in the nearby Tower Hill estate.

By 2017, most of these activities were complete, but the two-story community building built in the 1970s was still standing, but in need of some minor renovations.

That year, the council consulted on plans for improving the park and developed a master plan for facility improvements.

However, despite the investment of money provided by local property developers and £72,800 from the Veolia Environmental Trust, the reality proved disappointing for some.

Much of the playground equipment has been replaced, but plans for full-size football pitches have yet to be implemented and the footpath up to Tower Hill has been closed by new housing development.

Marie Groves, who has lived in the area all her life, welcomed the improvements to the playground, but said there was still a lot to do.

Marie Groves welcomed improvements to the Mill Dam Park play area, but said there was nothing for older children.

She said: “It’s just a shame it happened a few years ago, it went downhill but it’s been brought up to standard.

“But there is nothing for the older ones. A few years ago we used to bring them here but now there is nothing for them as they get older.

“We used to have discos and things here. I would like to see all of this again. »

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the shed

It was the replacement of the community building that aroused the most opposition.

Knowsley Council said it consulted the groups that used the old building when drawing up its plans, but some of those stakeholders said the council did not take their views into account.

As a result the building is much smaller than the one it replaced and while it was meant to be primarily a community space with a small cafe attached it has now been remodeled to become almost entirely a cafe as it is not not big enough for the community. groups to use.

The only remaining community facility is a small room previously reserved for storage space for groups of cyclists.

A member of one of the groups who used the old building said: “The building is too small and was never going to be able to provide both a replacement community center and a commercial cafe.

Cllr Smith added: ‘How did we go from a two-storey L-shaped building, built in the 1970s, to the promises of a Court Hey-style lodge that was further reduced in size, eventually becoming a former bicycle shop of 3 square meters. community hall?

“Is this what the community envisioned or wanted or was it due to the hubris of Knowsley officers and some labor councilors imposing their will on the community under the guise of consultation?”

He pointed out that the previous building had been described as “a building generally in reasonable condition and with the proposed investment in the building it could remain a community asset for many years”.

He said: “With a little more vision we could have done justice to the memory of the previous building which was a beacon for the children of this community and visited by playgroups from all over Europe as an example of best practice. .

“However, we now have what is locally called ‘The Shed’. I have no objection to an on-site cafe and will probably use it myself, but it should be in addition and not in place of it. a community facility.

Cllr Smith also asked if the change of use was in line with the objectives of the Veolia Environmental Trust grant, which was to provide a community room and accessible toilets.

A trust spokesperson said: “The project was completed to our satisfaction in November 2019.

“We monitor all completed projects for at least three years to ensure that they are still in use, in good condition and accessible to the general public.

“However, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it very difficult for community places to function normally and for many accessibility is only cautiously beginning to resume now that most restrictions have been lifted.

“As life begins to return to normal, we continue to engage with all of our funded projects to ensure they meet the terms of their grant.”

A spokesperson for Knowsley Council said: ‘The council consulted with the local community over a period of four years.

“This consultation process identified some key priorities – improvements to play equipment, a cafe and restrooms, and new and improved trails – all of which have been addressed.

“A fit-for-purpose cafe building has been constructed which includes accessible toilets (which are available for members of the public to use when the cafe is open and are not just for cafe patrons) and a washroom. meeting (capable of accommodating up to eight people) which can be booked free of charge for group use.

“For larger groups, the cafe operator is happy to explore the potential community use of the cafe space itself in the evening. The final works are nearing completion and the cafe’s opening is expected in the coming weeks.

“The first phase of play equipment has been upgraded with a second phase expected to be completed by the end of September and the pathways have also been upgraded. Park rangers will also be located in Mill Dam Park which will offer an extensive program of activities throughout the year.

Volunteers are planning trips again

Following concerns over the changes to Mill Dam Park, volunteer Steve Guy stepped forward to try to revive community activities in the area.

A former council employee, Mr Guy oversaw Mill Dam Park for decades, running the adventure play area, activities and days out for local children.

Now semi-retired, he said he was organizing a free day trip to Blackpool for local primary school children around Mill Dam Park on August 29, leaving at 9 a.m. and returning at 7 p.m.

Steve Smith and Steve Guy pose in Mill Dam Park in Kirkby.
Cllr Steve Smith with Steve Guy, who has overseen Mill Dam Park for Knowsley Council for decades and hopes to start running day trips for local children again.

Unlike previous trips, children would each have to be accompanied by a responsible adult, but Mr Guy said he hoped the trip would kick-start similar community projects.

He said: “I don’t want to get hyped up and make people think it’s the good old days. The times have changed.

“But with this trip, I’ll be fully retiring next year and I’ll have a bit more time and we can take the next step.”

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Maria R. Newman