Stotfold dance pupils campaign to save Greenacres Center for community groups

Gifford Dance Academy has trained in the centre’s Oak Hall for around six years, but received the devastating news in September that plans were afoot to turn the community hall into a new Central Bedfordshire library.

It’s claimed that the dancers are now struggling to find suitable premises – high ceilings are needed for acrobatics – while other community centers don’t have much availability.

Volunteer Nikki Gifford told the Chronicle: “Oak Hall’s a great space for events and meetings, where we can bring the whole community together and we need for a town with a rapidly growing population. But the consultation doesn’t mention the closure until the small print – the main focus is the new library.

Nikki: ‘These young dancers have just been through a pandemic, where they have shown such commitment by dancing online, then in the park when they were not allowed inside – including in the pouring rain. Finally, they are all back together again in the community center and now they are being told they may have to leave. What message are we sending to these young people who have worked so hard?’ Image: Gifford Dance Academy.

“Even before the pandemic, [hall] bookings were not encouraged in the way they should have been. It’s a terrible decision, just about money.”

Stotfold Town Council is planning to sell the Simpson Centre, Hallworth Drive, where the current library is located. But Nikki claims that many residents would prefer the library to remain there and “don’t want the land sold”.

She also noted that Stotfold Town Council built a new football club recently.

She claimed: “I feel there’s a possibility of inequality. We love girls playing football, but it’s still dominated by males. We love it when boys come to our dance classes, but it’s still dominated by females.

The dance academy pupils pose with their ‘Save The Greenacre Centre’ banner. Image: Gifford Dance Academy.

“The boys get a brand-new building whereas the girls doing the dancing are told ‘you’re out on your ear, you have to vacate’, with no sensible suggestion of where to go.”

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Indeed, when the dance school told parents about the plans in November, a petition to save the hall was started, attracting nearly 800 community signatures.

She concluded: “It was only thanks to local people speaking up that we were able to highlight that this wasn’t the correct way of handling the situation and we now have a public consultation.

Gifford Dance Academy performing at Stotfold Mill’s steam fair, 2022. The club regularly perform at Blackpool Opera House in national competitions and have even performed on stage at Disneyland Paris. Image: Gifford Dance Academy.

“Please take the time to comment; don’t just write on social media.”

A Stotfold Town Council spokesman said: “We have been working with all the current user groups of the Greenacre Center Hall, to understand their requirements and to see whether there are alternative suitable venues locally.

“Should this change happen, we hope to accommodate the groups in the Memorial Hall. Alternatively, there are numerous other venues in Stotfold that could potentially accommodate them.

“We have been in discussions with the dance group and located two alternative suitable venues for them. We will continue to support them, and other user groups, to ensure needs are met.”

However, Nikki claims no alternative suggestions were suitable.

A CBC spokesman said: “We are consulting on the proposal to move the library to the Greenacre Centre. We really want to understand the range of views, so we encourage everyone to respond.

“The results and an equality impact assessment will be published on our website, and the full range of views will be reflected. The findings will be carefully considered before a final decision is made.

“We will also share the findings with Stotfold Town Council, so they can reflect on the views and any issues raised.”

Comment on the consultation here

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