Musings From The Padded Cell

The Eccleshill Mechanics Institute – An Inspired Community

“When the lion sleeps, if you have a stick in your hand and stick it up the lion’s arse, never let go of the stick.”
Anon

Last week I promised you an intriguing story concerning a local community centre. As the plot unfurled, I’m pleased to say that it appears that people power and true community – as most normal people know it – can still win out.

The Eccleshill Mechanics Institute (EMI) was opened in 1868 according to local historian Michael de Greasley. Like most buildings of it’s age, it has had an interesting and varied history mostly documented by the Eccleshill History Group.

In 1905 it became a cinema; up until 1932 it was owned by the community until Bradford Council took over the building to install a library for the community. The only condition was that WW1 veterans could still socialise at the EMI.

In the 1950s the EMI became used as a storage facility and Eccleshill Library opened at a new site in 1964. In 1982, the EMI reverted to community use with a 99 year lease at a peppercorn rent payable to the council.

Things got complicated in 2007 when the Council effectively varied the terms by installing a silent £11k per annum rental charge on the understanding it would never be called on.

Bizarrely – though not if you suffer Bradford Council – they realised in 2012 that they did not actually own the building and so registered an interest at the Land Registry.

As nobody knew this had happened – you have two years to object – the Council duly became the owners.

The EMI continued to operate as the hub of the local community in the village, home to around 18,000 inhabitants and many small businesses.

Attractions such as the Christmas lights and summer fayre used the EMI as did numerous small groups such as yoga classes, the Eccleshill History Group and the Eccleshill Men’s Group.

Wind forward to this year and, out of the blue, the EMI was stung by an annual rent hike from £300 to the noted £11,000; clearly this would devastate most groups. Even in these hard-pressed times, a rent hike of over 3500% is hard to fathom.

What was behind this soon became apparent.

Lo and behold in came a “White Knight” to save the day in the form of Inspired Neighbourhoods (IN) at the prompting of Cllr Reid (Lib Dem), an ex-Lord Mayor and member of the EMI Board.

IN is based locally to me in Idle and an organisation I knew little about. However, from their website here is some corporate guff.

Inspired Neighbourhoods…was established in 2009. Its vision is for an inclusive, just and prosperous district for all in Bradford. Its mission is to lead on regeneration and neighbourhood management in the area.

…activities involve employment support, enterprise coaching, financial support, project management, business and management consultancy, community development and consultations.

Wow I thought this lot must be good; they must truly be an inspired bunch. But, surely don’t the Council do the same thing?

It would seem that IN’s business model is based on commercial and residential property rental although how they have amassed their significant assets (£1.29m as at 31/3/16) so quickly makes one wonder?

It also appears that they are able to take over previous Council assets though what extra they bring to the party is hard to fathom. After all, surely they are usually one and the same.

If you wade through their business plan to March 2017, littered with buzz-words and acronyms – see here – consider two of their “key internal messages”.

1. By March 2016 we will have Assets worth £2.5 to £3 million (Including Laisterdyke and existing Idle Library and additional ARISE Properties). Plus £500K Leeds Road asset and Turnover of £1.5 million+
22. By March 2019 (5 Years) we will have Assets of £10 million and turnover of £4 to £5 million. Delivering Region wide services. Be First port of call for commissioners, government, LEP and funders AND local communities

Who funds IN (debt £1.26m) is not entirely clear; is it public or private money?

Back to the EMI before you nod off…

As ever, Bradford Council were in the mix here too as were several other local Lib Dem councillors. To round this off, my local councillor – Jeannette Sunderland (Lib Dem – you guessed it) – is also Chairperson of IN.

I put it to Cllr Sunderland last week that it appeared to me as if Bradford Council had attempted to stitch up the EMI with the intention of moving in their own/her people i.e. IN.

It appeared to me that IN were on an empire building mission and that the Council were facilitating this. So I asked the following questions.

1 – why does the EMI need a turnaround? Is it haemorrhaging money?
2 – what is the justification for the rent hike of 36x.?
3 – can you advise the salaries of the INCIC CEO (Nasim Qureshi) and Finance Officer (Armghan Sajid) and their relevant qualifications – see here.
4 – what can INCIC bring to the table that the current Board cannot? Who funds INCIC?
5 – why are INCIC the only proposed solution?
6 – what is Ben Middleton’s role (Assistant Director of Estates and Property)?

Cllr Sunderland

I invited Cllr Sunderland to set the record straight; thus far no response. So much for the transparency they trumpet on their website.

Meanwhile, real, identifiable, community focused people have made a difference with a passionate local campaign to save the EMI from IN’s clutches at the same time humbling the local Lib Dems into a hasty retreat.

The community now have the keys once again. However, they need to raise £10k by the end of the month to pay the rent that is now due to Bradford Council although they are confident of doing so.

Having led efforts to close this centre and, in effect, transfer its operation and control to IN, the local Lib Dems have come out of this looking shoddy and untrustworthy.

As for IN, trying to unearth much detail about them is very difficult. Unelected and largely invisible, it should worry most of us that groups like this can mushroom so quickly, most likely from the public purse.

Interestingly there is also an associated business – Arise Yorkshire Limited – detailed in the IN business plan. Surprise, surprise and Sunderland and Qureshi are present here too.

Latest filed accounts for Arise (30/6/16) show assets of £1.46m financed largely by loans of £1.43m; the business made a small loss for the year.

So just what exactly IN mean by “an inclusive, just and prosperous district for all” may leave one wondering. Equally – see the comment attached to this article post publication – what they mean by ‘business advice” is questionable.

Surely local councillors should be engaged in serving the community they were elected to and not get embroiled in what appears to be empire building?

In the interests of fairness I offer the Lib Dems the right of reply here as to why they appear complicit in this botched attempt to take over a local community facility.

What were they seeking to achieve and for who?

Over to you Cllr Sunderland.

Footnote

Cllr Reid – T&A 5/9

The T&A finally got around to this story yesterday – see here – but judging from the public comments few are fooled by Cllr Reid’s defence. His position is clearly untenable.

Finally, Inspired Neighbourhoods Charitable Trust Ltd was recently incorporated 21/8/17 – watch this space.

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Comments

  1. Great article, lots of questions.

    Think IN CIC may need to change one their trumpeted ‘business advice” they told Board of ECA there are no options you need to shut up shop. Wrong, there are always choices.

    There is lots to do before we can say we have succeeded but we are on the road to success, the liquidation road was shut!

    Terry Pearson

    • Thanks Terry
      They told you to close so they could sneak in the back door. I have nothing but contempt for people like this especially as they live off the public purse.
      Well done to you guys for batting them back.
      Steve

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