Leeds Community Spaces: Community Centre management organisation through multiple community asset transfer
The project originated with Leeds Council’s involvement in a national government-funded programme focussed on multiple asset transfers delivered by Locality. Initially, twenty community organisations expressed interest in participating in a new consortium to take on nine Council-owned youth and community centres located across Leeds. Over time, four core community organisations emerged who oversaw an initial feasibility study and business plan. They worked with the Council to map the out the community buildings which could be considered for transfer.
They successfully applied to Power to Change’s Bright Ideas Programme in 2017. They received governance and business planning support, and funding for a Development Worker who continued the business development process and negotiated Council investment to the community centres prior to transfer. They incorporated in February 2018 and two community centres were transferred to them on a long leasehold basis in November 2018 with further transfers planned.
Leeds Community Spaces currently manage two community centres: Meanwood Community Centre and Kentmere Community Centre. Both now provide space for services providers (boxing gym, pre-school, adult education, disability support charity), alongside flexible community space for volunteer groups or private hire.
They serve a wide cross-section of the community and asset transfer was a catalyst for an increase in the volume and range of activities. There is a dual imperative to maximise use: an aspiration to maximise community benefit, alongside the need to maximise income through lettings and sessional hire.
The organisation benefits from tapering off grant from Leeds Council, enabling them to employ a Centre Coordinator and part-time support staff. The long-term strategy is to increase the portfolio of community buildings and they are negotiating the transfer of a further five centres.
The acquisition of the community buildings has resulted in a substantial increase in the volume and range of activities taking place within the two community centres.
“It’s nice to see it open. I used to go by it every day and it was closed. There’s things happening now!”
“We work so closely with community members – we are not doing this alone. It’s about spending time and working out what’s needed in that community.”
(Leeds Community Spaces Centre Coordinator)
The increased use of the community centres has resulted in Leeds Community Spaces connecting with a high volume and wide range of people – children, families, older people. In turn, this has made the organisation more knowledgeable of, and responsive to, the needs of community members.
Leeds Community Spaces prides itself on the way it personally connects with members of the community and how it has supported other, co-located services, to do the same. Several open days and community events have been held since the buildings became theirs, and they have used these as opportunities for consultation and involvement.
Leeds Community Spaces also have the ambition to grow levels of volunteering. There are substantial and increasing numbers of volunteers involved in the numerous voluntary groups which deliver activities within the centres. The ambition is to tap into this volunteer pool and grow the numbers of volunteers involved in centre management and they are in the process of setting up local committees linked to each centre. These committees will have a consultation and scrutiny role and will play a role in stimulating wider tenants and user involvement in organisational decision making.
Leeds Community Spaces’ ambitions for community involvement do not stop there. Their operating model is based on the acquisition of a number of community centres, enabling them to scale up over time to reach a critical mass to be viable without grant subsidy from the Council. But despite this, they harbour ambitions to support community organisations to take on a long-term role in the stewardship of the assets. For some centres, the hope is to incubate local community organisations, involve them in management, and then allow them to float off as independent community-run assets.