The winter of 2012/13 was an interesting one to say the least! In hindsight and with more time and resources at our disposal, we might have challenged the Council a bit more and sought to get a new community space built on the site in St Georges Road.
I believe it could comfortably have been rebuilt to 3 or 4 stories with some viable commercial / office use above a reinvigorated community space on the ground floor and possibly the first floor. Architectural plans and ideas had been drawn up several years before that but sadly never got delivered.
When I got involved, we discussed similar ideas with Wimbledon Guild, the YMCA and others who might have helped us persuade the Council of the merits of a redeveloped venue, but at the time they were preoccupied with other projects of their own and unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
Jackie and I spent several months going through the old documents, equipment and other stuff left at the centre. And my family were regular visitors assisting us emptying buckets from the leaking roof and managing occasional break ins during that cold, strange winter! There was a lot to sort out, but good homes were found for several of the useful items.
Other things went into storage including documentation dating back to the founding of the charity in 1946 and several props, set and costumes belonging to Carlton Theatre Group (who had been a long-term resident at the centre). You can find various bits about the history of the WCA, Carlton and other groups and people that used the centre in our 75 Stories | Wimbledon Community Association section. I will return to the founding mission and purpose of our charity in a future blog.
Alongside everything else, we also had to get a valuation done on the site in St Georges Road and employed local valuers to work with the lawyers and agree a price with the Council in line with Charity Commission requirements. After months of negotiation a deal was agreed. The documentation was signed and I finally handed the keys over to the Council on 30 June 2013. The centre was demolished soon after. The site has now sadly been vacant for over 10 years.
Initially, we deposited the bulk of the money from the Council in a savings account and spent the next year or so reviewing options on developing alternative physical space for the WCA. Further discussions took place with the YMCA (on their own project) as well as St Marks, St Andrews, the Polka and the Council (about Wimbledon Library) but none developed very far.
Consequently, when the interest rate on our deposit account fell significantly in autumn 2014 we had to look at other options. Our discussions over that period indicated that there were various other community spaces not only in Wimbledon but across the borough. So, at the AGM that year, and after quite extensive research done by fellow trustees, we posited the idea of developing a website providing information on existing community venues across the whole of Merton.
We switched most of the money (£600,000) to an investment account with the CCLA and decided to use the dividend from that to develop a new website. After a selection process a website developer was appointed and new branding agreed and initial work started on that in 2015 with the help and support of various venues (including initially the Guild, Mansell Road and SWCA).
A mock up of the website was presented to the AGM that autumn and work continued over the following months with new venues being added. Susanne was then recruited the following spring as our new Community Development Executive and in September 2016 Wimblecomm was launched…