Support Aspire CIC’s Bid To Purchase Reading’s Central Club As A Community Asset

Reading Borough Council has dismissed Aspire CIC's £10m bid to purchase and develop Reading's Central Club, in favour of putting the property out to the open market. Support Aspire's campaign to acquire the property as a community asset.

Central Club Reading

Central Club in Reading was a community centre that was closed in 2006 due financial cost-cutting. The outer wall boasts one of the finest African-centred murals, highlighting both the famous, such as Marcus Garvey, and local African personalities.

Recently Reading Borough Council put the property out for a bidding process. One of the organisations that responded was Aspire CIC, which hopes to develop the property as a community asset. Unfortunately its £10m bid has been dismissed by the Council, which is looking to attract commercial developers.

As a consequence, there is a campaign supported by individuals, the odd Green party councillor, and members, and supporters, of the African and African-Caribbean communities. Click here to support the Change.org online petition.

The petition, which has received over 3,500 signatories, is asking the Council to “think again and give proper consideration to the Aspire (Reading) CIC compelling, compliant, fully funded £10 Million Bid to acquire the spiritual home of the Black diaspora of Reading, the Central Club site and buildings.”

Comments

The situation is a bit more murky than this summary suggests. Aspire CIC says that it has raised £10 million to *invest* in Reading’s Central Club (not to buy it), creating a ‘spiritual home’ for the town’s Afro-Caribbean community, erecting a new landmark building on the site (which is in a conservation area, so is unlikely to be approved; see the header pics in http://www.aspirecic.co.uk/ for a simulation) and preserving the mural from destruction.

In response, Reading Borough Council (who own the unused Central Club) say that Aspire CIC *offered them no money* to purchase the site (see https://www.facebook.com/katesgrovelabour/photos/a.639369682905992.1073741829.197722513737380/867475133428778/), but they are unable to provide details because Aspire CIC insists the these remain confidential.

At a meeting in August, Aspire CIC chair Keith Kerr said “we believe we have a right to that land by occupancy, and the council are asking us to buy an asset that we already own” (https://whitleypump.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/readings-caribbean-groups-demand-their-birthright-with-the-central-club/).

Councillor Sophia James (who represents the area of the Central Club) said that the only reason the council wants to sell the place at all is to raise money in the face of central Government cuts, so giving it away wasn’t an option, and the council are committed to preserving the mural whoever owns it (https://readinglabour.org.uk/spiritual-home-black-community-reading/).

Given that neither the council nor Aspire CIC will make the bid public, we can only read between the lines that Aspire CIC has actually got an offer of a £10 million mortgage (from whom and under what conditions we do not know) that depends on the council giving (not selling) them the Central Club, so they can build a new tower block on it and repay the mortgage.


Aspire CIC chair Keith Kerr discussed the issue with me at some depth recently and said *categorically* that his group did not want the site for free, and were willing to pay Reading Borough Council a six-figure sum for it (https://whitleypump.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/reading-borough-council-involved-in-obfuscation-and-deception-says-aspire-chair/). He said that Aspire CIC would not engage in any second round of bidding because they had already won the first round.
We had also interviewed local councillor Sophia James beforehand, who re-iterated the council’s position that they wanted to protect the mural, whoever owns it (https://whitleypump.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/katesgrove-councillor-sophia-james-talks-about-the-future-of-the-central-club-and-the-black-history-mural/).
The local council have started a program of cleaning the mural and say they will open the second round of bidding this autumn (http://news.reading.gov.uk/mural-clean-and-survey/).


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