The future of Stonehaven’s Beach pavilion is hanging in the balance this week, as user groups remain uncertain about what will happen after Aberdeenshire Council relinquish their ownership of the facility.
User groups, community councillors, and members of the public met with Aberdeenshire Council representatives this week to discuss options for a way forward, after the local authority declared the building “surplus to requirements” in April.
Kincardine and Mearns Area Manager Willie Munro addressed the user groups, apologising for the fact that they were not notified of the closure by the local authority, instead finding out through a news release, as reported by the Mearns Leader in April.
The move was announced as part of Aberdeenshire Council’s Town Hall Strategy, which will see the number of town halls managed and directed by Aberdeenshire Council down from 18 to 13.
The local authority said that the storm damage sustained by the Beach Pavilion meant that a good deal of money would have to be invested to bring it back up to standard, adding that they believed that alternative accommodation could be found within the towns leisure centre, schools and other public buildings for current user groups, which include fitness classes, sports clubs for youngsters, and drama groups. They also claimed that the building was not used enough to justify keeping it open.
However, representatives from several of the user groups said that the alternative suggestions were not practical.
Stuart Sim, who runs the Stonehaven Judo Club out of the pavilion, made a passionate speech about the impact the loss of the facility would have on young people in Stonehaven. He said: “My club has been in Stonehaven since 1981, and in the pavilion since 1985. I have been with the club since I was nine years old. The club has given me a lot of opportunities and I am there because I want to do that for future generations in this town. We have huge specialist mats for Judo that cannot be easily moved. We have nowhere to go.
“There is a huge problem with childhood obesity in this country. If the people of this town want to see their kids, grandkids active, that is what we are all here to do. The Leisure Centre is no longer fit for purpose. We are passionate about keeping the pavilion as a community asset.”
Nichola Hart-Beresford, who runs fitness classes in the pavilion, said: “The pavilion is so well used that we struggle to book classes - if we could, we would book it more. So it is worrying to hear that it is not being used - the figures don’t add up. We have big pieces of equipment that cannot be moved around easily - it’s not practical for us to use other spaces as and when they are available.”
Her colleague, Lindsay Scott-Duncan, said: “The suggestion of us using schools is not practical as they are only available during term time. If we have to book the hall at the leisure centre, it will never be free for members of the public, and it is impractical to suggest that two classes share that space simultaneously.”
Scott McKenzie, who runs pre-school football classes, criticised a suggestion that his classes could potentially share a space with badminton players if they are forced to use the hall in Stonehaven Leisure Centre, commenting: “It’s all very well to put us in adjacent court, but I’m not sure badminton players would be very happy with footballs flying into their court every two minutes.”
All of the users who spoke stressed that they are there for the benefit of the community, many for youngsters, and also expressed concernt that data suggesting the hall wasn’t well used was two years old.
Community councillor Jim Stephen pointed out that the beach pavilion has long been used as an “overspill” for Stonehaven Leisure Centre. Addressing Mr Munro, he said: “The Leisure Centre is under-staffed, under-funded, under-sized and you are essentially about to cut off its left arm.”
Community councillor Alistair Lawrie said: “To open schools outwith termtime to accommodate these groups would mean employing a janitor, which would interfere with cost saving. I worry about a democratic process that makes a decision based on old information, which assumes that other suitable accommodation can be found without checking if that is the case, and then expects users to happpily accept the consequences - if that is the process then it is very worrying.”
Mr Munro encouraged user groups or interested parties to apply for a community asset transfer to take over the ownership of the building, adding that community groups would eligible for funding to help with repairs that are not available to the Council.
He assured users that they would not “turn up one day to find the building locked”, and added that nothing would be done until suitable alternative arrangements could be found.
At least three other groups, including the Stonehaven Men’s Shed have already begun the application process to take over the building. Current user groups were offered the support of the Stonehaven Community Council and the Stonehaven Town Partnership, if they decide to band together and take over the facility themselves.