Community centre plan in limbo
An attempt to convert a derelict building into a community centre is in limbo after the Government decided to review a grant to renovate the premises.
The Emperial Group was awarded the grant six months ago to transform the vacant caretaker’s house on a government property across from the National Stadium.
The plan to create a community centre with a farm attached on the Devonshire site was backed by a joint grant from the Department of Works and Engineering, and the Department of Social Development and Sport.
But the grant, approved by the One Bermuda Alliance government, came only five days before the July 18 election installed a Progressive Labour Party administration.
Emperial Group member Gladwyn Simmons said he had been unable to get a meeting with the new government to discuss the deal and blamed politics for throwing the project into doubt.
He said: “That it happened just before the election most certainly didn’t help. I am sure that added complications to an already prickly and complicated scenario.”
A Public Works spokeswoman said the ministry was still “reviewing the matter”. She added: “No decision has been made.”
The project was launched to support Emperial Group’s mission to address “the antisocial behaviours of our disenfranchised youth”.
The building and grounds at the top of Happy Valley, opposite the stadium’s southeast gates, were to be revamped as one of three “community vocational and job training centres across the island”.
A “start-up grant” from the Government would have been included for the refurbishment to employ at-risk young people.But Mr Simmons said that progress had halted since the election.
He added: “We made several attempts to contact the various ministries and got absolutely no reply.”
Emperial Group’s most public ventures have been cultural and entertainment events under the banner of “unity in the community”.
Mr Simmons said securing a building had been “a journey requiring immense patience because of the social lay of the land and the politics”.
He added: “Martha Dismont of Family Centre had asked me to bring youths of interest to one of their regular meetings. We then met with the Bermuda Economic Development Council.
“As an extension of that, I was asked to see if we could get access to a building.
“We made the request to Craig Cannonier, who was the Minister of Public Works, and he agreed. We were able to get a memorandum of understanding and a grant.”
The dilapidated house overlooking the roundabout was chosen by Mr Simmons.
The cottage is bordered by agricultural land, which Emperial Group had earmarked for community farming.
Mr Simmons said the country’s efforts to deal with antisocial behaviour were like “applying a tourniquet below the wound”.
He added delays with the new administration had come because “I am too close to the street”.
Mr Simmons said: “You can have the best facility that money can buy, but if you fail to make the right connections with people, you will be frustrated.
“I feel that things will, as before, blow up in peoples’ faces because we suffer from denial.”
Roland Skinner (1940-2018)
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