Campaigners bid to run old school

Andrew Robinson

CAMPAIGNERS hoping to spend 1m turning an old primary school building into a thriving community centre will today hand their business case to council leaders.

An 80-page business plan, complete with architect’s drawings, has been put together by people fighting to save Royal Park Primary School in Leeds.

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The sprawling Victorian building has stood empty since 2004 and hit the headlines last year when protesters occupied the site in a protest against its deteriorating condition which led some to fear it would eventually be demolished.

During the occupation, they cleared rubbish from inside and around the premises, carrying out painting and repairs before the Council took legal action and had them evicted from the site in the city’s Hyde Park area.

Now, the Royal Park Consortium has worked up a business case for the building to become a “community hub” with rooms for small businesses, social enterprises and all manner of activities, from art to keep fit.

The group has responded to Leeds Council’s invitation to developers and organisations to suggest a future use for the building.

It is believed that two developers may submit plans involving conversion to flats.

Royal Park Consortium, which was not part of the occupation last year, has drawn up a five-year plan that would involve them getting rights to the building, possibly through a lease, so they can apply for grants for a phased renovation project.

The plan would be to create a caf, crche, a workshop for metalwork and woodwork, function rooms, theatre, studio space, gym, and office space for businesses.

There is no shortage of space in the large building – t here are 20 classrooms, two large halls, eight office spaces and a basement.

According to the business plan, the centre would make money after five years.

John Lawrence, an English teacher and a member of the consortium who has been involved in drawing up the business case, says getting possession of the building would be crucial first step.

“Our vision involves community ownership and management; it is such a big building that it could attract all sections of the community.

“We have wonderful plans drawn up by architects which we will be putting on our website on Monday.”

A large part of the 1m spending plans would involve a woodchip boiler installation, costing around 200,000, and a lift, estimated at 50,000. The aim is to create a “low-carbon” building, he said.

“Our bid is not commercial but would bring a lot of social return.

“Our aim is to create a hub for the whole community that would bring people together. We believe we have a strong case.”

Mr Lawrence said that when the school was open it brought together different sections of the local community – white, black and Asian.

“There was a tendency towards cohesion. It’s a dream of bringing that back. That is what is really important to people.”

Sue Buckle, another of the campaigners keen to see the school preserved for use by locals, was formerly a governor at the school and sent her children there.

She said: “I believe we have a bid that would serve the whole community, not on a profit making basis. None of us are in this to make money. People have put in their own time and money to support this.

“We feel we have got a good case. If there is any justice ours will be the one.”

The Council set a deadline of today for bids to be submitted.

Council officials will evaluate each bid before councillors make a decision about the future of the former school later this year.