The future of youth provision in the Borough is bubbling up nicely as part of the TWAP (Twickenham Area Action Plan). You will recall that when the Plan got its first airing there was a lot of consternation from fans of Heatham House over the suggestion that it could be turned into posh flats or a boutique hotel. A petition did the rounds. The Council were suggesting that “da kids” could be provided with an alternative facility elsewhere, probably on the old sorting office site next door. In other words, despite being a highly rated youth centre, a Georgian building is wasted on the young. OK, so that’s not quite true, some of them might benefit from the change of use, for example by getting jobs washing up in the hotel kitchen. We’re not only being unfair (again) but we even used that joke last time round. Stark economics makes for powerful arguments and one might ask why not develop the site, help Council finances and create a modern, purpose built youth centre right next door? Seems sensible. Or at least sensible-ish. But does every decision have to be made solely on the basis of stark economics? Yes, times are tough but in the provision of public services you’ve got to hope that things like value, impact, reach and legacy also get a look in. Unfortunately these things are hard to measure. It’s a task that usually falls to people with beards but when beards are not in fashion.
El Brute is now running a consultation on the subject. It’s seeking the views of young people on beards. Actually, it’s not doing that. Instead it’s seeking the views of young people on what they want from Heatham House or its successor. Three options are being presented and they read a little bit like this:
Option 1 – Vote to build a new ‘state of the art’ youth centre as part of a larger development on the sorting office site complete with loads of great stuff and access to the same outdoor facilities as the current site.
Option 2 – Vote to build a spanking new stand-alone new youth centre at the rear of the sorting office site with like-for-like sports facilities. And a solar powered monorail to take you to the station.
Option 3 – Vote for this option if you’d like to stay in an old building that has outlived its usefulness, has no scope to expand, is very expensive to maintain and does not meet access requirements. It’s your choice, mate.
Now then, we know that the Council loves a good listening consultation. And now, just for a second, imagine you’ve got a great big pudding in front of you. Shovel some into your gob and do a bit of eating. What can you taste? Proof? Can you taste it in the eating?! If you can then great. If you can’t then you might want to see real evidence that alternative facilities of an equal, or even better, standard are in place before giving up on Heatham House. With the sorting office site being owned by a property developer rather than the Council, this is even more relevant. How to put this… things can change. After all, it would be a shame if, say, the Council adopted a plan and then, say, voted against its own plan when it came to the crunch. Surely not! It could happen, you know. Or should that read, “It could happen again, you know”?
Heatham House has a great deal going for it and a lot of popular support. And perhaps there is merit in keeping an old building for the exclusive use of the young. However, new facilities could be even better if done properly and shouldn’t just be dismissed out of hand. A broad view needs to be taken. But losing one without certainty over the other would not show much commitment to the borough’s young people, aka the council tax payers of tomorrow.