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Six bidders in race for control of Living Space youth centre

Six organisations have put forward bids to run the Living Space youth centre in Waterloo Road as part of Lambeth's 'cooperative council' programme to share responsibility for services with local groups and residents.

Six bidders in race for control of Living Space youth centre

The social enterprise internet cafe at Living Space, which opened in 2003, was shut down by the council in late 2010, soon before the authority announced that the building would be an 'early adopter' of the new cooperative council model.

The six bidders are Blackfriars Settlement, Kids Company, Oasis Waterloo, Morley College, a new mutual organisation formed by youth service staff and Metropolitan.

Young people and other interested local residents were invited to rate the six proposals at a public meeting last month. Their views will count for 30 per cent of the overall scores when a final decision is made by a council panel in early July.

At last month's public meeting each organisation was given 10 minutes to present its proposals and a further 10 minutes to respond to questions.

Blackfriars Settlement, which already runs some projects at Living Space, has been active in the area for 125 years. It plans to fund the youth service at the centre by renting out workstations to entrepreneurs and other commercial hire arrangements.

Kids Company, which has its offices in nearby Blackfriars Road, is promising a seven-day programme of youth activities, as well as making the space available for other activities for people of all ages.

Steve Chalke presented Oasis Waterloo's proposals which include reopening the Living Space cafe along similar lines to the successful Hub Coffee House in Kennington Road. Plans to generate revenue include hiring out the Astroturf football pitch for corporate use at lunchtimes.

Morley College is proposing a 'community learning hub' at Living Space where the youth activity programme would be subsidised by course fees from adult education classes.

Representatives of the proposed employee mutual set out their idea to make a success of Living Space freed from the tight control of the council. Ideas include the reopening of the coffee shop in conjunction with an existing local cafe owner and Lambeth College and an intergenerational gardening project on the roof of the building.

The Metropolitan housing association had a less clearly defined vision for Living Space – it is bidding to take over five Lambeth youth centres – bit it promised to set up a youth panel at each site to help set priorities.

Lambeth Council did not respond to enquiries from the SE1 website about the future of Living Space, but Bishop's ward councillor Gavin Dodsworth tabled an official question to the cabinet member for children and families questioning the process to decide who will run the five centres including Living Space.

"Firstly, does the cabinet member agree that this is rather underwhelming from a democratic and 'cooperative' perspective in the sense that 70 per cent of the decision is being made elsewhere?" asked Cllr Dodsworth.

"Assuming that that the cabinet member agrees with this (and I'm guessing it's difficult to disagree), could she outline what the timetable is for when ward councillors and local residents will be given a real say in decisions that occur in their ward (in other words, over 50 per cent of the 'scores')?

In her reply Cllr Rachel Heywood said: "Cllr Dodsworth will appreciate that, unlike the coalition Government with its chimera of a Big Society, the administration has not sought to shed its responsibility for the services it provides whilst working with local communities to improve them.

"In transforming our services we are fully retaining our statutory and moral responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of our children, young people and their families and we have been careful to ensure that our safeguarding duties and our commitment to protect the most vulnerable are reflected in this process.

"It has therefore been incumbent upon us to make certain that standards of safeguarding are fully upheld, that there is equal and fair access to the assets which the council holds in trust, and that these valuable facilities are protected for the future by ensuring that organisations which wish to run the sites have sustainable business plans and a sound financial and legal footing.

"It is these areas of assurance which we are seeking to confirm in much of the scoring process, and I believe that our residents should rightly expect us to do so."

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