YMCA Plas: A vision for a better Roath
Throughout my recent posts on asset transfer, I’ve visited organisations that have gone through the asset transfer process and are now on the other side. My final visit was a bit different, as it took me to an organisation who are developing their business plan for the site. I went to see the YMCA, who have taken on the old Plasnewydd Community Centre building on a leasehold basis for a hundred years from Cardiff Council. They are looking to redevelop the site, and originally wanted the building on a freehold basis to make the most of it.
Like all the other asset transfers in this series, it wouldn’t have been able to take place without working closely with the council. The transfer comes with an agreement for 25 years rent-free, without which the YMCA would not have been in a position to take the asset transfer forward. This has given them breathing space, and enabled them to put the right building blocks in place to encourage growth.
The price of property in Cardiff made it difficult to find suitable premises, especially with the huge increase in the area’s student market. But now the deal has been done, the move will enable the YMCA’s Youth and Community arm to get out from under the homeless remit that YMCA are widely connected to in the area.
The council didn’t want to restrict how the YMCA makes use of the site, but it has stipulated that it must maintain community usage. The Local Authority deliberately didn’t tie the YMCA into a restrictive agreement, and the only other condition is that they can only sub-let 33% of the site. The YMCA maintained throughout the negotiation process that they would be unable to take on the staff through TUPE, as they didn’t have the capacity to do so.
What is the strategy for YMCA Plas?
As the lease for the building is so long, YMCA Plas needs to be multi-use, so that if circumstance change the building can still be functional. Fewer and fewer people have been coming to the building as it’s been earmarked for closure for quite some time, so the YMCA are currently running events to re-engage the community, and are looking to consult on its future.
The aim is for YMCA Plas to be a community hub for local groups and people in the area. They want to develop a sport facility with space for a gym to generate income, which will give the centre a health and wellbeing focus.
The organisation are also developing a childcare strategy and a nursery. There is a lack of affordable childcare in the area, which they’ve identified through working with Communities First. Not many people know that the YMCA is the biggest childcare provider in UK, which the organisation can draw on to take this part of the plan forward. They are also looking to rent out rooms where possible and to rent spaces to organisations whose purpose aligns with their aims and objectives.
The entrance to the building is on the side of the street, so the organisation is looking to move the entrance so that it focuses on footfall from the street. This will clearly show that it’s open and accessible to the public, instead of relying on people to go down the side street.
Throughout the process the organisation focussed on the council’s timelines, which meant that the focus wasn’t always as intense on their own requirements. As staff were not transferred over to the organisation, embedding new staff whilst taking over a new facility was a big challenge. This meant that they couldn’t hit the ground running in the way that they would have liked, and the transfer involved so much work it was difficult to focus on what was going to happen afterwards. However the core message in the short term has been to maintain the current business, which doesn’t pay the bills but does contribute to it. Because of effective planning they are able to soak up the immediate losses whilst the business plan is being developed. The challenge now is for the organisation to continue to run the business whilst developing a path forward.
A vision for the future
I’ve lived in Roath for the past few years, and it’s a vibrant and diverse place to live. I’ve given blood at the centre a few times, but I must admit that I haven’t made the most of the facility that’s been on my doorstep.
The area has lots of people living side by side, but who aren’t always integrated. I’m all for anything that brings people together in the area, and I’m excited to see how the YMCA make their vision for the community centre into a reality by involving community groups and the people of Roath.