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The centre where happiness is standard

SMILES: Pastor Scott (left) opens the centre with councillor Paulette Hamilton (second left), community activist Desmond Jadoo and Madge Milligan-Green

PEOPLE POWER has breathed new life into a popular community base that was the subject of a hotly-contested community asset transfer after Birmingham City Council declared it could no longer afford to run it.

There were fears that Handsworth’s Laurel Road Community Sports Centre would fall into the hands of private owners with no real interest in the local community.

But all those doubts have vanished now a team from Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church (CSMBC) in Handsworth is at the helm – and many are calling for the transfer to be held up as a model of best practice.

The church has an impeccable track record of community work and it was felt appropriate to call the Laurel Road scheme Olive Branch 2, after Cannon Street’s original award-winning Olive Branch project which has supported local elders for decades at its Soho Road church.

As the sun shone down on the centre’s official opening ceremony, the previous controversies from those who were against private ownership were all forgotten.

Cllr Paulette Hamilton, who has just become the first black female councillor to enter Birmingham’s Council Cabinet as member for health and social care, and community leader Desmond Jaddoo, who cut the ribbon, praised project directors Pastor Bryan Scott and Madge Milligan-Green for making the dream a reality.

DUO: Pastor Bryan Scott and fellow director Madge Milligan-Green

Jaddoo said: “This is a very special place for our community, which speaks for itself. We are known for doing a lot of talking, but Madge and Bryan have shown us what can be achieved through action.”

While Cllr Hamilton added: “The community feared they were going to lose this centre, but now it couldn’t be in better hands. As long as I am a councillor in Handsworth Wood I can assure Laurel Road that it will always have my support.”

Pastor Scott, whose wife Joy is volunteer manager, said: “Without the support of the community we could never have made this happen, along with the support of Birmingham Property Services and Perry Barr District, so thank you everyone.”

Civil rights veteran Maxie Hayles said: “This is a wonderful day for the African Caribbean community because Bryan and Madge have helped to bring it into our own domain. We need to identify similar projects like these that the local authority no longer wants and develop them for our own community’s use.”

More than 100 people a day are making use of the centre’s enviable facilities which include three astroturf football pitches, three multi-use hard courts, tennis and table tennis, a climbing wall, a meeting room, function room and free car park.

There are also a variety of keep-fit classes, two senior citizens clubs, school holiday play schemes and Saturday tuition classes.

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