Community group on Grimsby's Nunsthorpe estate faces closure over unpaid rent
A GOVERNMENT-lauded community group on Grimsby's Nunsthorpe Estate is facing closure – a revelation that comes just two days after an ITV documentary "did not show the estate in a good light".
It is claimed the Nunsthorpe Together community group owes £140,000 in unpaid rent and maintenance costs to the Parochial Church Council (PCC) for the use of St Martin's Church Hall, which it uses as its base.
And although negotiations with the PCC to secure a deal to retain the use of the building are underway, the PCC says unless a satisfactory arrangement to pay back the money and a formal lease for any future use is agreed, the group will have to leave.
The group, which took occupancy of the hall in 2004, holds community activities such as bingo, dance classes and go-karting, and is credited with helping many of the estate's residents turn their lives around.
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Its predecessor, the St Martin's Community Action Group – which was behind the hugely successful, but now defunct, Funhouse project – received Government praise in 2005 for its work. Antisocial behaviour tsar Louise Casey described those involved as national examples.
The whole issue will be at the forefront of a Grimsby Telegraph debate at www.thisisgrimsby.co.uk today between 12.30pm and 2pm.
Community champion Steve Hill, who has campaigned to improve the lot of residents on Nunsthorpe for nine years, will answer questions, along with representatives of Humberside Police and North East Lincolnshire Council.
Meanwhile, Nunsthorpe Together says it has no means of paying the unpaid rent bill – but that they will fight to keep their home, claiming the service they provide is "vital". They have launched a petition.
Committee member Tom Elliott, 33, says the service helped to steer him away from drugs and get his life on track.
He said: "I was a heroin addict and lived on the streets until I was welcomed into this community group.
"The leaders gave me the support and guidance to change my life. I can not thank them enough.
"If the group no longer existed here, children will soon go back to old ways and cause trouble."
Billy-Jo Vinson, also of the group, said: "Where does the church expect us to find £140,000?
"We are a voluntary organisation which is key to the community. We will fight to stay here and urge everyone to sign our petition."
Molly Hutton, 16, takes part in activities and helps run the cafe – but claims to be frightened of reverting back to her old self without any of it.
Molly said: "Before I got involved with Nunsthorpe Together, I was out all night drinking and I would end up smashing windows around the estate. Here, I have something to focus on and do.
"The leaders listen to you without judgement. It would be awful if the group was no longer here.
"The estate and community need it, as there is nothing else to do other than be on the streets or bored at home."
The Rev Andrew Dodd, priest in charge of Great Grimsby team ministry, said, as yet, the group had not made a satisfactory offer.
He said: "Nunsthorpe Together has never held a proper lease for the church hall. One was drawn up years ago but never signed.
"There are a lot of background problems and complications, but one of the main issues has been finance.
"As an act of goodwill, we have already asked around and looked for other venues to house the group if the decision was taken to move them out. Unfortunately, no one has come back to us."
The news comes after ITV's Exposure: Driven From Home was broadcast on Wednesday, which has been criticised for a biased portrayal of daily life on the Nunsthorpe.
South ward councillor Jane Bramley said: "The programme did not show Nunsthorpe in a good light.
"We have problems with drugs, violence and unemployment, but personally I would have shown a lot more of the good things and the nice families that have been here for years."
Above: A video taken as the editor's debate took place earlier today