The council is recommended to agree to lease the premises at Westfield House to Corstorphine Community Centre (CCC) on a month to month basis while the organisation’s Community Asset Transfer (CAT) for the building proceeds.

The plan is that CCC will then move ahead with an application to the council for the transfer with an associated funding application to Scottish Land Fund.

Westfield House is currently vacant and a lease to CCC will instantly save the council £115,000 in business rates. The council had leased the building until 2018 when they were able to purchase it from the landlord. At present the council incurs borrowing costs of £238,000 per annum. CCC will pay market value for the building acquiring it through the CAT mechanism which has been used successfully elsewhere in the city. The price to be paid for Westfield House is as yet undetermined, but with funding from Scottish Land Fund added to the proceeds of the site of the former community centre on Kirk Loan, which is currently under offer, and the insurance monies following the devastating fire of the previous building, it is likely to be in the millions.

Corstorphine Community Centre has had a temporary home on St John’s Road where they run a range of extensive services, but that temporary arrangement is coming to an end on 23 June, so it is key to the future of the 40-year-old organisation that this new lease is agreed on Thursday at the meeting of the Finance & Resources Committee.

Chair, Shulah Allan, said the move should be relatively seamless, but essential services like gas, water and electricity will have to be checked first before opening the doors to their 49 volunteers and the 150 people who come to their base each week. CCC cater for many different services including language skills for young Syrian and Afghan refugees, drop-in IT sessions and their very popular Men’s Shed which draws its members from a wide area, mother and toddler groups, walking groups and lunch clubs. During the recent pandemic CCC were delivering food to vulnerable adults and maintained a telephone hotline which offered help and assistance.

Their initial costs on moving to Westfield House will run to around £10,000 simply to put the building into temporary working order, and the committee is just waiting for the keys so that their volunteers can get started. There may be a short gap in their activities in the meantime, but that will be kept to a minimum. The building is huge, but the committee plan to use only the ground floor so that it is accessible to all.

The other floors will only become accessible when the major works including lifts are carried out once the CAT has been completed, but the committee says it has “exciting” plans for the building.

The council is working on a programme of 20-minute neighbourhoods all over the city, and a huge building like this one in Corstorphine could become key as there are currently no council facilities within the Corstorphine/Murrayfield area. While the council’s library service decided to remain apart in their own building just up the street rather than combining forces with CCC, there are possibilities as a business hub in future once the CAT is finalised, and also as a council hub for any new 20-minute neighbourhood created.

The CAT process has already been underway for about 18 months, although the fire occurred some time back, in 2013. There has been a great deal of fundraising by CCC members over the years, and both the Chair and Vice Chair of CCC were keen to stress that the insurance monies have been carefully invested, and the proceeds of sale of the old site will be wholly reinvested back into the new site at Westfield House.

Shulah Allan, CCC Chair said: “All of the monies from the various sources will go to providing a 21st century hub for Corstorphine. setting up a Business Hub so that is a very positive thing. I think we can have public space where we can have community activities. There is a history of providing it in the public hall and we want to maintain that. We have talked to a lot of people about what they want us to do, and this may include the land to the rear of the building in a variety of ways from community gardens to a range of exciting opportunities.”

Vice Chair Cllr Frank Ross said: “The CAT process has been on the go for about a year and a half. We were keen to get the Library Service to join us, but they have now assessed their needs and they want to remain as a separate body. That has caused us a little delay, but we are now driving the CAT forward. We always knew that we would have to leave the St John’s Road site where the landlords Mactaggart & Mickel have been very good to us. They have planning permission for housing there so we always knew this day would come. But we are very happy that this is a win-win situation both for CCC and for the council. This opportunity to go into Westfield House allows us to continue to be in the heart of the community where we have always been. The building will now be occupied and there is a saving of £115,000 in business rates currently payable by the council.”

Cllr Ross also explained that the hall had been owned by shareholders since 1871 and Corstorphine Youth and Community Centre were just one tenant. The shareholders donated their portions to the new charity which is behind the asset transfer for the good of the Corstorphine community. He continued : “This is a true community effort, as the shareholders could easily have decided to pocket their share of the insurance monies instead. We will be able to provide the services to the community and will not be a draw on council resources as we are sustainable because of the resources we already have.”

The committee say they had a very positive meeting with Scottish Land Fund recently, but it is not possible to process their application to the Fund until they make a successful application to the council first. They will do this as soon as possible and then the council has up to six months to approve their bid. CCC are hopeful that with their decades long track record of providing services for vulnerable people and others in the community will stand them in good stead.

Corstorphine Youth Community Centre in 2020. Photo: Martin P. McAdam
Corstorphine Youth Community Centre. Photo: Martin P. McAdam
Fundraising at the Public Hall once home to Corstorphine Youth Community Centre. Photo: Martin P. McAdam