Working together to ensure the future of Bridge Clubs in the Brentwood & Billericay Area
Hutton Bridge Club (Monday), Mayflower Bridge Club (Tuesday), St Edith's Lane Bridge Club (Wednesday), Mountnessing Bridge Club (Thursday)
Posted 15/08/2013 / Updated 18/11/2013
MOUNTNESSING AREAFor the past few months, the Project Team has been investigating possible locations for a new Bridge Centre in the Mountnessing area. Though at least one significant barrier remains, one particular option is the focus of ongoing discussions with multiple other parties. More detail will be published at an appropriate time, so please keep an eye on this page for future updates.
Please see the 'Hot News' page for a very brief progress report.
BRENTWOOD TOWN HALLAs may be widely known, it was reported a few months ago in the local press that Brentwood Borough Council is planning to let some of the space in Brentwood Town Hall to local community groups. The project team followed up that line, but largely drew a blank - it transpired that
- The accommodation will not be available until well into the future
- It is likely to be too expensive
- More importantly, it will not be suitable for a playing area, as it comprises mostly office-style rooms.
BRENTWOOD LEISURE CENTRE (BLC)Theo Todman and Alaric Cundy had a meeting with the Chief Executive of the Brentwood Leisure Trust, hoping that there could be some appropriate space in a location such as Hutton Poplars. Unfortunately, there was nothing available there that would have been suitable as the home for a new Bridge Centre, but the conversation moved to a space within the Brentwood Leisure Centre (BLC) itself, in Doddinghurst Road, Brentwood. The space is currently near derelict, but it is due to have a 'make-over' and it could have been available to us from April 2013.
There were some strong 'plus' points about this venue:
- Abundant car-parking, even though there would be a fair walk for people with mobility restrictions
- Cafe-bar on-site
- A location that many people visit for other leisure activities, and hence it would have been easy to publicise the Bridge Centre
- Though it was on the first floor, there was good lift access, and it also had its own male / female and disabled toilets
- The rent quoted would be fully inclusive of lighting, heating, rates, cleaning. Additionally, security was good
- The space looked 'tight', but probably just about big enough
- The rent would have been about £18,000 per year - more than double the current combined rent of the four clubs.
- There was no natural light in the room, though the standard of the artificial light was very good
- There was no kitchen area included, though there was plumbing for a water point and sink, which could have been installed for us - but at the cost of some playing space
- The playing area would have been adjacent to the main performance area at the Centre, which, from time to time, mostly on Friday and Saturday evenings, hosts major, but noisy, live shows. However, there was double-glazing fitted, which appeared to be reasonably effective at sound-proofing - there was a fair bit of 'crashing and banging' going on while we were there, but it wasn't evident from the potential playing area.
- The other potential issue was the actual location, in Doddinghurst Road, Brentwood, which is a significant distance from the current locations at St Edith's and Mountnessing Village Hall
- Some detailed financial modelling was carried out, which broadly concluded that though the £18,000 rent superficially appears to be challenging, it did look like a challenge that should be within reach. See the 'Finance' page on this website for more details.
- Spokespersons for the Hutton and Mayflower Clubs were both unenthusiastic about the prospect of a move from one hired premise to a different one. They didn't view the upheaval involved as worth the benefit that might have flowed from being able to organise our own teaching sessions from our own dedicated premises, and perhaps also attract other local clubs to the fold.
- The actual room dimensions of the space available at the BLC were marked out within the hall at Mountnessing, and card tables and chairs were set out as they would be for a playing session. The conclusion was that, superficially, the space could take 20 tables - EXCEPT space equivalent to one table would be lost due to a pillar, space equivalent to another table would be lost to create room for a tea / coffee area in the corner, and space equivalent to a further table would be lost to create an entrance way. So, the room could take 17 tables if necessary, but 15 in reasonable comfort.
- Compared with Mountnessing Village Hall, players at both the Mayflower and Mountnessing Clubs (MBC) who travel from the Chelmsford direction would face an extra 10 minutes or more in travelling time, each way. A significant number of the MBC members who were consulted said that they would leave the club if we moved to Doddinghurst Road.
With some reluctance, we have had to turn down this opportunity. However, we take heart from some of the lessons that came out of the examination of this option:
- The Financial modelling work (see the Finance page) has shown what needs to be done to make a project of this nature affordable, and it has also shown that it may well be achievable
- The 'tables and chairs' game that was played at Mountnessing Village Hall has confirmed earlier estimates that the minimum space required for the playing area at any new Bridge Centre is 90 square metres
- On the downside, it is clear that some influential people involved in this process remain to be convinced that in order to preserve Bridge locally in the long run through having the potential to organise our own teaching sessions then it is worth making a few compromises here and now, e.g., through initially moving into joint premises that are rented
DERELICT PUB IN STOCKWe were advised about a development opportunity that had come onto the market in Stock, where a disused Grade II listed pub was on offer. Unfortunately, we didn't hear about this opportunity until just a few days before 'best and final' offers were due, against a guide price of £650,000 plus VAT. Superficially, that number looks to be even more ludicrous than other numbers mentioned on this website; however, there was more to this suggestion than meets the eye. It was noted that the ground-floor bar area could be converted into a very fine Bridge Centre, with plenty of space for a playing area, and with kitchens and toilets already there. The upstairs could be converted to living accommodation, which could be either let or sold. Additionally, there was planning permission for a ground floor extension, which too might have been amenable to conversion to living accommodation, and then let or sold. The rent or capital realised through the living accommodation would have provided significant income, and the presence of 'on-site' dwellers would have been a boost to security. The crude estimate for those works was well into six figures, so the total outlay needed, including renovations and VAT, would have been around £1 million.
Three issues cropped up:
- There was no way we could find £650,000 plus VAT plus the cost of renovation in three working days. We also need to note that, should a 'snip' crop up, then the likely reason is that there would be significant additional costs.
- The location posed issues: though those who would have been disadvantaged by a move to Doddinghurst Road probably would have been delighted by this alternative suggestion, a large number of our players come from the Romford / Upminster area, and they would have been significantly disadvantaged
- It made us realise more clearly that we just do not have the organisation in place to even attempt to respond to opportunities such as this one
- It was always likely that location would be a significant issue, and these recent experiences have confirmed that view. The discussion about location seems to point to focussing in on the area around the junction of the A1023 North of Brentwood and the A12. Courtesy of Wash Road, Shenfield Road and Roman Road that takes in a large swathe of Hutton, not to mention Mountnessing. Of course we are talking about a high-price area (though perhaps not as high as the centre of Stock...).
- It seems evident that it is more realistic to think about renting / leasing shared premises as a first step, so that a new organisation can get off the ground, so that we can develop teaching sessions and maybe attract other local clubs to the fold, and hence 'grow' the club. Everyone would agree that in the long run we would want to buy, but it is clear that some key people still need to be convinced of the wisdom of a step-approach to that end goal
- At the moment the four clubs involved in this project are operating as a loose collaboration; to make serious approaches for any particular premises, we need to be better organised. This point has led to a discussion and a proposal that has been detailed on the 'Operation' page on this website
Recent Telephone ConversationSome months ago, an article appeared in the local press that said that Brentwood Borough Council were planning to let some of the space at the Town Hall to local community groups. We have now spoken to the Council official who is responsible for this project. It doesn't sound as though Brentwood Town Hall will fit our needs. They are currently undertaking a major revamp prior to letting it out, which they expect to do from 2014. The accommodation is currently office space, though it includes some open-plan offices, but nothing that would be big enough for our needs. The best we could do would be to have several adjacent rooms, with a knock-through between each, but that really doesn't sound suitable. It also sounds expensive. We have not ruled out this option, but it is no longer high on our priorities.
We were, however, referred to the Brentwood Leisure Trust (BLT), which manages all the community halls owned by Brentwood Borough Council, and we have now arranged to meet with the Chief Executive Officer to discuss options and to assess viability. There is a website where details can be browsed. We have been sent a list of all the individual spaces managed by BLT and we have carried out a preliminary assessment against our criteria. We plan to pursue these ideas until / unless an insurmountable snag is hit. Any specific proposal built around any of these options would be on a long-term lease basis, rather than through outright purchase.
Posted 26/09/2012 [Updated 01/11/2012]
Following a meeting with Bernie Hunt we concluded that:
- Do not under-estimate the cost of start-up, even for rented premises. E.g., kitchen, carpet, chairs, air-conditioning, ...
- Ground floor rented accommodation can cost upwards of 50% more than the same space on a higher floor. Downstairs vs upstairs is important - though lifts can help - but other matters of alleged convenience may not be. For instance, a hut in Billericay High Street may well be deemed to be in a premium location, while for our members, most of whom travel miles anyway, a cheaper hut in Roman Road, Mountnessing is just as convenient.
- Visibility of the club is important - having the club in an area where people pop by and can see it is a good thing.
- From a detailed discussion of financial facts, we concluded that it looks as though a rented option could be viable, especially if we could get a few additional clubs on board.
E-mail dialogue with Essex County CouncilQuery submitted: I was attracted by an article in the recent edition of the Yellow Advertiser headed "Plans for unused council buildings". The article directed me to the Essex County Website for more details. I have been scanning / searching the website but I cannot find the relevant page. Could you send me a direct link to it, please? A community grouping that I represent has potential interest in such buildings in the Brentwood area. Many thanks
Response: Thank you for your email. The notification that we have received today about this indicates that the article was printed two months too early. There is, consequently, no information available anywhere at this time. We can only apologise for any inconvenience that this has caused and recommend that you check the Essex County Council website in approximately two months time, when this information will be officially distributed. Kind regards
Posted 07/09/2012 [From the meeting held on September 5th.]
Visits to Clubs that already have their own premises
- None of us feels inclined to 're-invent' wheels.
- Alaric will contact Graham Randall of Southend & Leigh Club, to arrange a visit / meeting, ideally on a Monday or Wednesday or Friday in the second half of September. Theo / David and John / Alaric to attend and then to play a session at the club as visitors.
- Theo will make enquiries when he visits the club in Darlington in early October
- Alaric reported that he has a part-arranged meeting with Bernie Hunt lined up; Theo will also attend if he is available
- A draft 'tick list' for the requirements for any new premises has been drawn up - see the document. There
are three reasons why this list has been constructed and published:
- We can compare potential premises against a pre-determined standard to judge whether the option is viable, or at least, to highlight any compromises that would be implied
- By giving club members the opportunity to see and comment on the tick-list, we should get better 'buy-in'
- By giving club members sight of the sort of thing we have in mind, we may excite greater interest in the venture
- Alaric commented that by studying details of commercial properties offered for rent by local estate agents, he had estimated that the rent for suitable sized premises might be in the range of £15-20,000 per year.
- Alaric will seek to arrange a visit to an appropriate Officer within Brentwood Council to discuss the current initiative whereby part of Brentwood Town Hall may be let out to local Community Groups; Two or three members of the group will attend that meeting. One of the hoped for outcomes from the meeting would be a more robust estimate of likely renting costs
- Further to actions completed since the meeting on September 5th, it has been established that collectively the four clubs currently pay about £8,500 per year in rent
- Taken together with any outline rent suggestions that might emerge from the meeting we Brentwood Council, this value would give our first semi-robust estimate of 'the financial gap' and hence the amount of additional activity that we would need to attract. [See the notes dated 07/09/2012 on the 'Finance' page.]
Intitial thoughts and questionsThis aspect is a bit 'chicken and egg' because, obviously, the eventual cost will be determined by the choice of premises, but then affordability will limit the choice of venue. Two aspects arise:
- It is important that we draw up a 'specification' for the premises that we need so that potential acquisitions could be 'checked off' against it.
- Car-parking and accessibility are important. How much car parking and how accessible?
- Ideally, the playing area should include two separate rooms - a main area and a side room that could be used as a seminar or teaching room
- The size and configuration of the playing area(s) needs to be specified.
- There are obvious additional requirements, such as toilets, kitchen, storage, disabled access, etc.
- The dimensions of the main hall at Mountnessing Village Hall are readily available from the Hall's website, and, for example, that could be used as a starting point for discussion. It is known that, in the past, and before the Stage Area was constructed, Bridge events with up to 36 tables have been held in that room, though it was an uncomfortable 'squash'. But using that observation as a starting point, it should be possible to specify the dimensions of a suitable playing area and the additional facilities, such as the kitchen, etc.
- It should be possible to establish a 'minimum viable' space below which the project could not proceed, and an 'ideal', which may turn out to be unaffordable.
- Having derived a specification for the premises, it would then be approriate to 'look around' to see whether that requirement can realistically be met, e.g.,
- Could the idea to rent space in Brentwood Town Hall work, assuming it could be afforded?
- Would it be feasible to buy a disused building, such a school, chapel, or barn, and convert it to something that met the specification?
- What would it cost to buy a suitable parcel of land on which premises that met our specification could be built?
- What would it cost to build something from scratch on a suitable parcel of land?