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Trailblazers unite a community

BUILDING: Pastor Bryan Scott

THEY’RE SMILING in the rain and why not – this is one trailblazing community who has shown just what can be achieved when everyone pulls together for the good of the wider neighbourhood.

And like most campaigns it hasn’t been easy, but the happy faces say there are good times ahead at Birmingham’s Laurel Road Community Sports Centre which has a new lease of life with a new leadership team.

The Handsworth-based centre was the subject of a hotly-contested Community Asset Transfer (CAT) last year after Birmingham City Council, as part of its austerity cuts, looked for a private owner to take over the running of the popular centre.

The controversial move sparked protests from those who felt private ownership could spell disaster for the sports and community base and mean an end to democratic accountability. Many called it “privatisation through the back door.”

Five candidates stepped forward to take over the base and a team at Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church (CSMBC) in Soho Road, Handsworth, emerged as the clear winners.

The group was awarded a 25-year lease from Birmingham City Council to run the centre and officially signed the papers three months ago.


With an impeccable track record, CSMBC is known as “the people’s church” and has a long-established history of working as a community lynchpin.

And they are calling on that history by naming the Laurel Road centre project Olive Branch 2 – after the church’s original award-winning Olive Branch scheme which has helped to transform the lives of scores of church elders over the years.

Pastor Bryan Scott, of CSMBC, said: “When we started to canvas for a name it seemed natural to call it Olive Branch 2 because that is a trusted name in the Handsworth area.

“From the outset there was opposition to the community asset transfer, but we believe as a group that we will show we are working for the good of everyone.

HAPPY DAYS: The leadership team with Pastor Bryan Scott in the centre

“There will be no discrimination and all facilities at the centre will be offered on a first come, first served basis. Jesus was fair, so we will try to be as fair as possible!”

Pastor Scott, whose wife Joy is volunteer manager, added: “We are building on what was already here, focussing on using the centre more during the week when previously it was under utilised. We already have football every night with 16 different teams – more than 1,000 people a week are using the centre.”

The base was gutted by fire in 2001 and re-opened four years later after a £1.5 million rebuild. It now boasts an array of enviable facilities including three astro-turf football pitches, three multi-use hard courts, tennis and table tennis, a climbing wall, a meeting room, function room and free car park.

The current weekly list of weekly activities is impressive – with even Aston Villa joining the ranks. The Premiership club, just a mile away, has launched a free girls-only football coaching sessions between 5pm and 6pm every Friday for those between 12 and 19 years-old. The Olive Branch 2 team is hoping West Bromwich Albion will also follow suit.

There is an array of keep-fit classes, two senior citizens clubs, holiday play schemes, MPs’ surgeries, before an after- school clubs, Saturday tuition classes and church groups on Sundays.

Madge Milligan-Green, who is part of CSMBC’s leadership team and a director of Olive Branch 2, said: “This is a centre for everyone that will meet the needs of all communities. We will hold a ‘Place of Welcome’ every Wednesday afternoon where everyone is invited to come in for a chat and a drink to see what is on offer.”

Paulette Hamilton, Labour councillor for Handsworth Wood, said: “The groups that already use the centre are happy that they can stay here. The transfer has been a great success.”

David Ellis, of the Heart of England Baptist Association (HEPA) said: “This should now be used as a model of best practice because this group has been a trailblazer in uniting the community.”

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