Community building is to close doors in the summer

Rachael Stewart, Lisa Willcox  and Fiona Stewart with two of the youngsters  at the Dovecote Toddler Group in Amble.'Picture by Jane Coltman
Rachael Stewart, Lisa Willcox and Fiona Stewart with two of the youngsters at the Dovecote Toddler Group in Amble.'Picture by Jane Coltman

A community building in Amble is to close in the summer, leaving a long-running toddler group fearing for its existence.

The Dovecote Centre, which is used by a number of organisations, will shut its doors at the start of August, in a money-saving measure.

Northumberland County Council currently rents the building from the Diocese of Newcastle, but has decided not to renew the contract when the decade-long lease ends later this year.

The authority runs its Learning and Skills Service (Adult Learning) from the facility, but says that it can offer the courses from various venues in the Amble area, instead of having to fund the cost of a full-time centre.

The county council says it will help the service’s sustainability.

However, the Dovecote Toddler Group, which uses the venue and has been running for more than 20 years, says the closure places the group’s future in doubt.

And members are frantically trying to search for new premises before the axe is wielded on the Dovecote Street-based building.

Lisa Willcox, Rachael Stewart and Fiona Stewart run the group, which caters for youngsters up to three-years-of-age, and they are appealing to anyone who can help them find alternative accommodation, before it is too late.

Group leader Helen said: “We are shocked. It really is upsetting that the Centre is closing. We are trying to find somewhere else, which we can not only use, but also has the right storage space for all of the equipment.

“A lot of people rely on what we offer. It is a support group and we offer cheap sessions. The three alternative venues we had in mind didn’t have the storage facilities. We want to stay in Amble and are appealing to anybody who can help.”

The group meets on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and can cater for more than 20 children at a time. Older children are welcome during the school holidays. If anyone can help the group, call Lisa on 07730 886879.

Other groups to use the building include Busy Bees Pre-school and Nursery. The Gazette contacted the nursery for a comment, but it did not feel it was appropriate to comment at this stage.

Explaining the closure, a county-council spokeswoman said: “As an adult learning service, we have found that we will be able to offer courses in the Amble area, in local venues, without the need to fund the cost of a full-time centre. The move will help us to ensure that the adult learning service is sustainable into the future, and to keep course prices down.

“These are challenging financial times for the council, and the service has also lost over £500,000 through the ending of Government grants for community learning.

“We have given notice to the toddler group and other building users, and explained that this has not been an easy decision.

“The council is reviewing the use of all buildings – and we have already identified opportunities to generate over £33million in capital income, contribute significantly to economic growth and regeneration and make annual savings in running costs of £3.4million by selling off surplus buildings and ensuring all remaining properties are fit for purpose.”

A letter issued by the county council states that the closure will come into effect from Monday, August 1. It says the building will be returned to the Diocese. Before this is done, the authority will complete some works to the building.

A Diocese spokesman said: “We will be reviewing the future of the building shortly.”

More views on the closure

Amble Mayor Jane Dargue said: “We don’t want to lose the toddler group and we will look into it. The closure of the centre will be on the agenda for tonight’s town council meeting.”

County Coun Robert Arckless added: “I am fond of the place. However, it is a big building and is not exactly modern, in terms of its facilities and it would need some significant capital investment.”

A spokeswoman for the adult learning service said: “We plan still to run courses in the Amble area. We don’t want to leave Amble with nothing and we don’t want Amble to lose out. Where we have interest and people want to do a certain course, we will deliver it.”