THE EDITOR’S CHAIR: Don't let Pill Millennium Centre close
LIKE many hundreds of children, the Pill Millennium Centre was an important part of my sons’ childhood.
They both played football at different levels for Pill AFC’s junior teams and the Pill Mill was the goto venue for indoor training during the winter months.
For about five years I coached mini-football (admittedly I was less Pep Guardiola and more Peppa Pig) and many of those sessions were at the community centre.
My family’s story will be no different to many, many others in and around the Pill area.
For some youngsters the Pill Mill has probably been the difference between staying on the straight and narrow and falling in with the wrong crowd.
So to break the news of the centre’s closure at the weekend was a sad day for me.
But it was far worse for the people of Pill.
Much has been said and done in the few days since the Pill Mill’s closure was announced.
Protests have been staged, blame has been apportioned, and many community groups are now without a place to meet.
The Pill Millennium Centre must not be allowed to die. It must not become another empty, decaying building.
If such a thing as the Big Society actually exists – and there is no evidence that the prime minister or anyone else has the slightest clue as to what his concept means – then it has to show itself when places like the Pill Mill are in trouble.
Newport City Council has come in for plenty of criticism over the centre’s closure.
While I have been critical of the council’s remote, disengaged, outdated style of political leadership and disagree with some of its policies, blaming the council for the Pill Mill’s demise is unfair.
When the community centre was refurbished and renamed in 2000 with a £300,000 Lottery grant it was on the understanding that its running would be transferred from council control to a community trust and become self financing by 2009.
While the transfer to the trust happened, the Pill Mill has failed to finance itself and has relied on emergency funding from the council.
With more than £8 million of savings to be found in 2013/14 it is understandable that the council has said it can no longer afford to keep bailing out the Pill Mill.
But there must be a way of keeping the centre going. The services it provides to one of Newport’s proudest but underprivileged communities are too important to be lost.
Perhaps a private organisation can be attracted to take it over.
Perhaps a community group or charity can come to the rescue.
Perhaps the council or the Welsh Government could offer some form of interest-free but repayable loan to oil the wheels.
The Pill Mill has provided an invaluable service to the local community for very many years.
It might need some radical thinking to save it from oblivion but it must be saved.