Residents fury over ‘loss’ of village community centre

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Villagers have been left fuming after their local parish council voted this week to lease out a community centre to a children’s nursery.

Angry residents in Southwater have been battling for months to try and persuade Southwater Parish Council to maintain the centre - Easteds Barn - for community use.

But councillors, at a meeting on Wednesday, decided to go ahead and enter into legal negotiations with a commercially-run nursery.

Residents have been left feeling that the council has ridden roughshod over their campaign to maintain the building for a variety of local activities. More than 800 signed a protest petition over the council’s plans - and now they have vowed not to give up their battle.

Up until now, Easteds Barn has been used for a string of events including keep fit, karate and zumba classes, along with villagers’ weddings, anniversaries and birthday parties. Now residents say that some groups have been forced to find alternative premises out of the village.

The parish council posted a notice via Facebook following its meeting on Wednesday stating that the children’s nursery was needed in the village.

The council said: “Whilst this proposed lessee is a commercial organisation, this proposal would be providing services to the community by way of childcare. It has been identified that this is something which is needed within the community, there being a feficit of pre-school places within Southwater at this time.”

And it added that it remained “committed to working with all community groups to ensure that where possible, the community of Southwater has facilities to meet the growing demand. The Parish Council will be discussing future possibilities to enhance facilities, with such groups and the district council leisure services.”

Colin Young, who is among villagers who have campaigned to keep Easteds Barn for the community, hit back telling councillors: “You have removed a valuable community asset from general use so that it can be used by a small number of paying customers.”

He said the parish council had been underhand in its dealings over the matter. “There is a lot of anger not just because of what has happened but also because of the way the council has conducted itself.”

He said Easteds Barn was the second biggest asset which the council owned “and they have gone behind everybody’s back.”