A town charity has stepped up to take the lead in a last-gasp bid to save Forfar’s Lochside leisure centre.
Weeks away from a meeting which could finally end the saga surrounding the empty building, Forfar Community Football Trust has launched a survey to gauge the level of support from other clubs and organisations in the area for a community hub plan.
They hope to make a May proposal to Angus Council to finally stave off £400,000 plans to bulldoze the Forfar Loch building.
Last month, councillors looked again at Lochside’s future and decided a community asset transfer (CAT) or demolition remain the two best options.
But the trust accept the clock is ticking on hopes of keeping the 45-year-old centre standing.
A May 13 meeting will determine the next step.
The group secured charitable status in January 2020 in the latest development for what started out in 2012 as Station Park Community Trust, a partnership involving Forfar Athletic FC, Forfar Farmington FC and Angus Council.
FCFT vice-chairman Nicola McBride said: “We’re a fairly new charity and just went through that status process so we realise what is involved and the time these things take.
“Having created good partnerships with local community clubs and other local trusts in the town, we were greatly affected by Covid-19 in terms of new activity.
“However, we have had the chance to look at what we could achieve from being part of a development of a new community hub.
“We have a number of great ideas, but we want to complement rather than be in competition with what is in the town.
“This wouldn’t just be our group, ideally it would be a Forfar area trust and would be an umbrella body for everyone involved.”
The community survey is available here.
As well as catering for a range of sports, the trust believes the building could offer opportunities for facilities including space for small local businesses, a pop-up cinema, physiotherapy/health rooms and a cafe.
Nicola added: “We just have enough time to build a business case to take to the council meeting in May.
“But we really need other groups to help us by giving us their views and support.
“If we can’t provide sufficient evidence to indicate the support of the community then it’s likely the council will take the option to demolish Lochside.
“We were given access to the building so our structural and heating engineers could have a look round and there were no horror stories.
“The situation inside is what happens if any big building is left empty for a length of time and we think it is sound for another 30 years.”
“We’re not thinking this is going to be huge investment in equipment, it’s about giving clubs space for them to be able to do their own activities and events.
“We can only try to give this a shot.
“But we can’t do it on our own and really need the support of as many other groups as possible to show the council there is a genuine appetite to take it forward.”
She said: “The council has more than £400,000 set aside for the demolition of the building so it would be great if some of that could be used to help us in our plan.”
The centre was shut four years’ ago on the opening of the Forfar community campus.
Plans to raze it were challenged by two town businessmen and the fight went all the way to Scotland’s highest court.
Judges declared the centre a common good asset, forcing a fresh community consultation on its future.
The council’s district-wide survey ran from December 3 2020 to January 31 this year and drew just 334 responses.
More than a third backed bulldozing the centre, but a CAT plan also drew support.
The council responses were:
4 (1.2%) status quo (no change)
77 (23.1%) sale of the leisure centre and land
38 (11.4%) lease of the former leisure centre
95 (28.4%) Community Asset Transfer
120 (35.9%) retaining the parkland and demolishing the building.