In 2015, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council took the decision to close The Wells Community Centre. There had been no consultation with the staff, the users, the hirers or the local community
There has been a community space on this site since the 1940s, when the land was made available for community use. Located in the very centre of the circular Wells estate, it has served Epsom through good times and bad, and could do so again…
Home to the world-famous Epsom Salts
In around 1620, Henry Wicker discovered a patch of standing water that his thirsty cattle refused to drink. The water was clear, not rancid, with a strong mineral taste. It was found to be a powerful purgative and people began flocking to the Epsom Well to benefit from its cleansing effects. A cottage was built beside it, possibly on the very land the community centre now resides.
It’s home to a community
The centre boasted a council-run, over-50s centre, but it also had an active private hire business continuing into 2020.
Ballet, Zumba, ballroom and martial arts classes; Scouts, Guides, a church and a creche; amateur dramatics, birthday parties, wedding receptions, fetes, crime prevention talks, and polling station. With proper management and promotion it could be even more.
1940 – a community centre was up and running on the site.
1996 – The community run centre was thriving, which prompted Epsom & Ewell Borough Council (EEBC) to offer to build a larger facility. This combined the community centre and the over 55s services. The council took over the running of the centre. Initially the centre thrived and was well attended
1996-2013 – Gradually, funding was reduced and the centre was not advertised. Users and private hirers were discouraged and made to feel unwelcome. Complaints about the over 55s services were not acted upon and membership began to fall.
2015 – Rather than appointing specialist venue advisors with a remit to look at turning the centre around, the RA-led EEBC Scrutiny Committee appointed a Scrutiny Working Group made up of four council members to write a review. This group reported back and with no public consultation*, the decision was taken to close the centre, ending over 80 years of continual community use.
The decision to close the centre seemed to be based on over 55s membership numbers and not on the user numbers.
*as minuted in the Scrutiny Committee minutes dated 29/10/2015
2015-2016 – Saw an instant public outcry at the closing of the centre and was the beginning of community protests including; two marches on the town hall, a 2,000+ signature petition, multiple letters sent to the EEBC councillors, and numerous stories in the local press.
2016-2020 – To date, the RA-led council has spent £175,000.00 on feasibility studies, surveys, and a planning application. This application received 459 public objections and was deferred by the EEBC Planning Committee in 2020 due to density, overlook and environmental concerns.
2020 – The local community organised themselves into the Epsom Wells Community Association (EWCA) and launched a leaflet and social media awareness campaign. Despite EWCA gaining a validated pledge for funding covering the first year’s running costs of the centre, EEBC refuse to engage with EWCA. Instead, the council ploughed on with a request for a further £25,000 funding to consult on how to amend the planning application. This passed at the October 2020 Strategy and Resources meeting by a 6 to 3 vote, despite cross-party pleas for them to consult with EWCA from Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors.
2021 – EWCA forges on by creating a business plan, resident polls, getting funding pledges and applying for a funding grant from Your Fund Surrey. Also raising awareness within the wider community by creating this website, regular posts and local resident engagement on social media and doing as much door-to-door customer research as COVID-19 restrictions have allowed.
The Future – With your involvement, EWCA will continue to fight for the much-needed centre to re-open and be re-imagined as a thriving hub for the people of Epsom, Surrey and beyond.
Listening to each other
In 2015, when the centre closed, a determined few got together to try and talk to the council and find if there was a way to see eye-to-eye. We realised quickly that our hopes were unlikely to be realised. Despite a handful of councillors being on board, the vast majority of the RA councillors just followed the party line.
As time passed and new councillors gained office, it was obvious some sort of communication was needed to bridge the gap between assumptions and facts. With this in mind the #savethewells social media campaign was launched and the booklet Still Needed, Still Loved, Still Here was produced.
A huge part of the success of this booklet was due to the number of people who contributed, telling us the real stories of how much the centre was used, how isolated they have become since its closure and how the rhetoric coming from the council didn’t match the reality of people’s experiences.
When the council not only refused to circulate this booklet amongst its members, but also refused to allow the group to present their findings or ask questions at a council meeting, the group decided to become a formal association, forming EWCA in late 2020. We have secured a pledge for funding the running costs of the centre for the first year and are seeking further funding for either the refurbishment of the existing site under council ownership, or the money to purchase the site from the council and return it to community ownership. Once it is clear which pathway is to be taken a decision will be made to become either a charity or a community interest company.
We would like to listen to you again
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