Pill's Millennium Centre closes in cash crisis
A NEWPORT community centre used by hundreds of children every week is to shut its doors for the last time today.
The Pill Millennium Centre no longer has the funds to operate.
Pill Labour councillor Ron Jones said he is "furious" and that Newport council, which pulled funding last April, was warned 18 months ago that it would struggle to survive without subsidy.
But Newport council said the centre was always meant to become self-financing, and that its closure was a matter for its operators who will remain liable for the council-owned centre.
Bernard Sefton, the vice-chairman of the Pill Millennium Trust which runs the building, said they had sought new funding from Newport council of £36,000 a year but none had been forthcoming.
Mr Sefton, who volunteers as manager at the centre, said: "There were several options that were maybe open to the council to consider but they chose not to consider those options "So unfortunately we came to a situation where we can no longer afford to trade."
However he added the centre could have continued had it not been for the withdrawal in October of a training provider – the Military Preperation College – which used the site.
Three people who worked at the site part time were told on Thursday they would lose their jobs. The trust intends to hand its lease back for the building back to the council.
He claimed the council had been in discussions with a third party that had intended to take over the centre and keep it running from January 1, but this didn't take place in the absence of funding.
Although the centre will shut, the trust will continue with with the income from a small property in Church Street which is rented out to a training academy used to settle its debts on the Pill Mill of £10,000.
Labour Pill councillor Ron Jones, said: "It couldn't have survived without any subsidy or further use.
"I must have had 20 meetings over the last 18 months to try to save this place, to emphasize and stress to them the importance of this facility in Pill where people desperately need it.
"I'm furious over it."
Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West, said: "If It has provided a splendid service in a variety of areas such as charitable and social work for a long period. I hope that they will be some way of continuing the work.
"It's a sad loss for the area."
Residents have already expressed their dismay over the move. Gerard Dowdall said growing up it was "the centre of my world", while Georgia Morgan wrote the news was devastating.
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A RAFT of groups – from football and basketball clubs to pensioners groups and people using the facility for tuition used the space – at the Pill Mill.
But the centre has struggled with its finances for a number of years.
A total of £300,000 was granted by the Millennium Commission in 2000 for the centre's refurbishment.
But a condition of the grant was that the centre would be transfered to the community trust away from council control and become self-financing by November 30 2009.
The trust was set up in 2006 to manage the centre and the council agreed to support it financially for three years.
But in 2009, it emerged the centre faced financial difficulties and emergency funding was provided to cover costs.
Two years later the authority decided to end its support by April 2012, with a package of phased support to give the trust more time to develop a viable business plan.
NEWPORT council says the decision to shut the Pill Mill centre is entirely a matter for its trustees.
A spokeswoman said it was deeply regrettable and dissapointing that the Pill Millennium Trust hasn't been able to resolve its financial difficulties.
"Council officers made every effort to assist the trust to become self-sufficient but they were always aware that the authority could not subsidise them indefinitely," she said.
It said the trust has a 99-year lease on the council-owned building but the lease has no break clause or provision for early surrender.
"Even if the premises are closed, the Trust remains legally liable for the centre until alternative arrangements can be made," the spokeswoman added.
"In a bid to find a way forward, discussions were held last year with another organisation about taking over the building but any change in the lease arrangements would have to be agreed by the Millennium Commission as well as the council."