Friends of Ashburton Park gather opinions at public meeting

By - Friday 1st November, 2013

Stephen Mann recounts how a mentor of President Obama, along with more than fifty others, became a Friend of Ashburton Park

Friends of Ashburton Park discuss what they’d like to see the former library building become

I am writing again as one of the co-organisers of the Friends of Ashburton Park (and I hope you aren’t getting sick of the updates). After our second public meeting this week we have made fantastic progress both with regards to planning our ideas but also with understanding who we are, what we can offer and what the challenge possesses.

A lot of this is down to both the organisation and engagement work that has taken place already. Credit is also due, however, to Tony Newman being able to draw Arnie Graf, Barack Obama’s mentor, to the project. Arnie’s presence did provide a “wow” factor that helped facilitate the local organisers and community to move the project forward. As Tom Black previously mentioned in his fantastic article, Arnie chose to talk about his experiences in The Wire (as seen on TV). Working with a community on small key issues to try and affect the bigger picture.

Ashburton thankfully doesn’t have 40% unemployment, and all that that entails. But the same core themes run through them all. To succeed with a community project, have a vision, target it, ensure it appeals to the public at large (not just a select group), and make it immediate. This was the purpose of the meeting and, on the whole, it succeeded.

The Friends of Ashburton Park are seeking to work with these groups of potential investors if they find themselves struck by the core findings of the meeting

Demonstrating the success of the meeting, the Chairman of the Ashburton Conservative Party (who was very vocally against the Friends’ plans at the first public meeting in the park) has thrown his weight behind the scheme. I commend him for doing this as it takes a brave person to break party lines on such a core issue and hope we can work together for the future of the building and park.

More than fifty people attended the meeting at Oasis Academy Shirley Park on Wednesday. They participated in discussions on the future of the building and park at large. With Andrew Rendle (@AndrewRendle) in the chair, it was always bound to be a night focused on the sole goal: planning what we as a community wanted to see in the building. Andrew revealed that, after numerous Freedom of Information requests, the council have finally disclosed that there are 9 applicants for the building. Andrew also made it explicitly clear that the Friends of Ashburton Park were seeking to work with these groups of potential investors if they find themselves struck by the core findings of the meeting.

After Arnie’s speech and an address from local community activist Sadie Campbell, the meeting split up into workshops to discuss the local aspirations for the building. After 15 minutes the groups fed back. Numerous fantastic ideas were fed back including: sports facilities; a community garden; a wedding venue/meeting areas. The group were keen that the building must pay for itself hence such ideas to make money to invest back into the project. However, there was one theme that ran through the whole discussion – disability.

As I mentioned briefly in my previous article on the park, a disability-run cafe would be fantastic in the area. Through marrying ideas together to both match the aim of making the project financially viable and fit in with a not-for-profit community venture, the local community decided this was the core of the plan, with options as mentioned above incorporated into the wider park scheme. Arnie, summing up, pointed towards the desire from the community for a multi-functioning venue and this forms part of Stage 2 of the project.

To close the meeting, the group was tasked with developing some of the ideas further to report back on the issues of sports development, community cafés and community gardens. If any reader would like to share relevant expertise with a lead member of one of these subjects, please .

This is the second public meeting in the space of a week that the local councillors have failed to show up to without sending apologies

It was decided that the organisers would write a letter to the council to fulfil the “community right to bid” scheme to ensure the building would be listed as a building of “community value”. This allows the Friends of Ashburton Park to put forward a bid to delay the sale if any of the proposals fail to fit in with what the community decided they want to see in there.

For the sale to be successful, the council needs to be mindful of what the community will and will not use – not the highest bidder. We hope these resolutions may force their hand a little with regards to negotiating a long term future for the building by seeing openly what the public demand.

I would like to close the article on two very clear points. Firstly, this is the second public meeting in the space of a week that the local councillors have failed to show up to without sending apologies. As an Ashburton resident, this is disappointing as it suggests they do not care for their community or the opinions and expertise the community can bring to the table. I hope for the next meeting they do decide to work with us on this important issue.

Secondly, the demand to bring the building back as a community asset run by and for the community is growing steadily stronger. If you would like to be involved in the project please join our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

Stephen Mann

Stephen Mann

Born in Addiscombe bred in Ashburton, Stephen is a local Labour activist seeking to both improve the local area and develop Croydon's community facilities. He will bea Labour candidate for Ashburton at the 2014 local elections. He also works in cricket development, covering youth engagement, and has a past in politics, disability support and communications. A keen sportsman, he is often found either at the football or on a cricket pitch.

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