Combe Martin Community Centre closure threat

Joseph Bulmer

Villagers begin battle for their centre as Devon County Council announces plans to close in eight weeks

PLANS to close Combe Martin Community Centre after Devon County Council declared it “surplus to requirements” have left local community groups shocked and fearing for their future.

The village Senior Citizens, Brownies, Guides and other groups were stunned when they received a letter from Devon Adult and Community Learning giving them two months notice to quit.

It said due to a lack of demand for adult education courses, which ceased more than a year ago, it could no longer spend money meant for learning provision to maintain a building it did not use and so the 650-year-old building would be closed and “disposed of.”

The Senior Citizens have used the centre for more than 30 years and have their own room, where bingo and social activities are held four days a week.

Many of the 105 group members are frail, with the sessions proving a lifeline to them, with several were distraught on hearing they would lose one of their few chances to and socialise. A petition already has hundreds of signatures.

Warning of closure was given by district and parish councillor Julia Clark, who as the organiser of the newsletter Shammickite was the first to receive notice from DACL.

“I advised everyone to write to the parish council so it would be well aware of how important this building - the second oldest in Combe Martin - is to the village,” she said.

When Nick Childs of Devon ACL visited the centre on Wednesday for a meeting, he “had been left in no doubt” how important it was, she added.

And in a letter of appeal for help to the Parish Council, president Gwen Eastman, chairman David Cottingham and secretary Ann Davies said the options for alternative venues were extremely limited.

“Many of our members are frail or have mobility issues, so steps and stairs would without a doubt prevent members attending,” they said.

“It does seem ironic and questionable Devon County Council is closing a centre which has had a significant amount of tax payers’ money spent on it to make it Disability Discrimination Act compliant.”

They appealed for the Parish Council – expected to discuss the matter in coming days – to buy the building.

New parish council chairman Councillor Andrew Jay said consultation should have been carried out, called on the county to rescind its decision and “step back” so that discussions could be held.

County Councillor for adult learning Stuart Barker said a range of courses would continue to be offered locally, with venues booked as and when needed.

He said they would be happy to talk to local groups or the Parish Council if they wished to take future ownership of the building.