SUTTON Manor Primary School has insisted no decision has been made over the long-term future of a popular community centre that has been shut during the coronavirus crisis.

The Shining Lights Centre, based within the grounds of Sutton Manor Primary School, houses parents and toddler groups, sports activities, youth clubs, pensioner meetings and many other gatherings.

The venue has been shut during the pandemic and last week, it announced on its Facebook page that a decision had been taken by the council and the school to permanently close the centre.

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Sutton Manor Primary’s website describes the centre as being “under the control of St Helens Council and managed by the governing body of the school”.

Many of the services at the centre are provided  by Roll Model Youth and Community Development CIC.

Hundreds of messages of support, and anger, flooded in following last week’s announcement, with one person describing it as an “absolute disaster”.

But on Friday, St Helens Borough Council leader David Baines took to social media to say the Shining Lights Centre had only been closed temporarily.

The school has remained silent until today (Tuesday), and has now released a statement from its governing body insisting that no decision has been taken to close the centre permanently.

“On the 20th March 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, the Shining Light Centre closed on a temporary basis,” the statement says.

“This was based on government/DfE (Department for Education) advice issued at that time. As the pandemic progressed, there was a need to consider further when the centre could be re-opened.

“On the 8th July 2020, the governing body re-considered this however due to the continuing pandemic; health and safety/risk considerations and associated costs, it was decided that the centre should remain closed for a further period.

“Some centre users had already indicated that they were not going to return to use the centre, due to the possible risks of doing so.  As a result of the decision taken by the governing body contractors/staff/centre users and parents were duly notified of this decision.

“We are aware that there has been a great deal of concern expressed on social media about a decision to close the centre permanently.

“We seek to clarify that no decision has been taken to close the centre permanently.”

St Helens Star: The Shining Lights community centre is based on the grounds of Sutton Manor Primary SchoolThe Shining Lights community centre is based on the grounds of Sutton Manor Primary School

The statement confirms that the governing body has agreed to review its decision to reopen the Shining Lights Centre in the autumn term.

It says that any decision in relation to the centre and the timing of any re-opening will be made in consideration with all government advice.

John Prescott, Roll Model’s director of projects and funding, claims that the company was served a written notice via email on July 10 confirming that its involvement with the centre would end on October 9.

He said this email, which was sent by the school’s headteacher, Monica Gladman, did not mention the permanent closure of the centre, nor did it confirm an intention to reopen in the future.

Prior to this, he claims Mrs Gladman verbally notified Roll Model that their contract to manage the Shining Lights Centre was to end as a result of the governing body’s decision to close the centre permanently.

“We were informed by Mrs Gladman that this decision was based on advice given by St Helens Council,” said Mr Prescott.

“This statement was given verbally by Mrs Gladman, so we can only confirm the information given by this individual as a representative.

“Following this verbal statement from Mrs Gladman, we continued to discuss the matter including the next actions we should take.

“This included informing the public of the decision to close via social media, requesting that hirers be contacted to inform them of the decision and ask that they collect their equipment stored at the centre.

“We also discussed actions my company must take to begin removal of our belongings from the building.

“The conversation came to a close with myself and Mrs Gladman agreeing that these actions needed to take place immediately to give hirers and members of the community as much time as possible to make arrangements.”

The public were subsequently informed of the development via a post on the Shining Lights Centre’s Facebook page on Thursday.

In the post, Mr Prescott said St Helens Borough Council and Sutton Manor Primary School had made the decision to permanently close the Shining Lights Centre with “immediate effect”.

He said the decision was made to save the council £450 per week during the COVID-19 pandemic as it is unable to make any money while it is closed.

However, St Helens Borough Council distanced itself from the closure, releasing a statement on Friday afternoon in response to backlash.

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“It has been brought to our attention there has been criticism of St Helens Borough Council in social media posts around the closure of the Shining Lights Centre,” said Jim Leivers, interim director of children’s services.

“This is a centre run from the local school, St Helens Borough Council does not fund the centre and made no decision on its closure.

“We understand that decisions have been taken by the school and these have been based on the lack of funding they are receiving as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.”