Duncan Place Resource Centre: new gym and nursery, but community space still to resolve

Chas Booth reflects on today’s decision by Edinburgh Council education committee around Duncan Place Resource Centre. 

I’m delighted that Edinburgh Council education committee has given the green light to demolish the rear half of Duncan Place Resource Centre and build a new gym and nursery for Leith Primary on the site. This is great news for Leith Primary, who have been struggling with a lack of gym space and a temporary nursery unit for over a year. We need to ensure there is no delay in this new building going ahead.

I’m also delighted the Duncan Place Management Committee have been successful in their campaign to ensure the whole building is not demolished. They have really lived up to the Leith motto – persevere – and their dedication in campaigning to save at least some of the building has paid off.

The Council has also agreed to set up a working group to explore how to bring the community side of the building back into use. I hope this new group will have input from previous users of Duncan Place Resource Centre, as well as parents from Leith Primary School. I have also sought assurances that a council-run community space will be considered, but I am still waiting for clarity on that point.

I think most people who’ve been involved in discussions around Duncan Place would acknowledge that dialogue between the council, parents and former users of the centre has not been ideal, to put it mildly. I very much hope that can be improved in the future, and that trust can be rebuilt.

But I want to focus on the potential in the community side of the Duncan Place Resource Centre building. There is enormous potential there, which I hope constructive working between the council and the community can realise. There is the potential for space to be used by CLASP, the after-school provider for Leith Primary. They currently have a long waiting list, with some families waiting 3 years for a space. They are desperate to expand, but they have no space to do so. Bringing the community space back into use could allow them to do so.

There is also potential for Edinburgh College to come back to Duncan Place with their excellent and well-regarded community-based English as a Second Language (ESOL) hub. Not only were classes taught in Duncan Place, but it was also used as a resource for volunteer community-based teachers, and as much-needed staff space and library. Currently the ESOL unit is scattered to the four winds. They deliver classes under very difficult circumstances, but a return to a refurbished Duncan Place would help secure their future.

And there is very great potential for Duncan Place to provide a resource for the wider community. Everything from woodwork classes to mental health support sessions were held in Duncan Place before it closed, and I very much hope a refurbished centre can once again host these and many more community resources.

The tone of the discussion at Education Committee this morning was one of co-operation, of the council working together with the community to deliver shared outcomes. I hope this spirit can continue, and crucially that the council is prepared to commit resources to the process of bringing the community side of the building up to a reasonable standard. My preference would be to see a council-run community centre using this building. But if community asset transfer is to be considered, it must genuinely be an asset that is being transferred – not a liability. In its present condition, the building is most certainly the latter.

Whatever future Duncan Place Resource Centre has, whether council- or community-run, it’s essential that council and community work together to ensure that a much-needed and well-used community asset is brought back into public use.

The report considered by committee on Duncan Place can be downloaded from the council website. The debate at Education Committee can be watched on the webcast archive.