FAILURE to secure extra funding has forced New Milton Memorial Centre to close its doors to all but essential use for the rest of the year to remain afloat.
The busy facility, off Whitefield Road, usually hosts a range of events including concerts, indoor markets and exercise classes. But it has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with its use heavily limited since March.
A £10,000 government handout in April provided a much-needed boost to the running of the centre, which operates as a charity.
However, David Luker, chair of the board of trustees, said in an application to the town council for a £5,000 grant that the £10,000 was “nearly exhausted”.
As well as scaled-down and socially distanced use such as Zumba classes, the centre has continued to host NHS blood donor sessions and the Little Angels nursery – both classed as essential services.
Mr Luker stressed costs continued to be incurred by cleaning and maintenance work throughout the lockdown – even at a reduced level.
“By December there will be insufficient funds to keep the centre open,” he wrote.
But following a private debate during Monday’s online finance and general purposes committee, town councillors turned down the application.
They said the £5,000 sum made up the entirety of the town council’s grant aid pot for 2020/21, from which it hands out up to £600 a time.
Town clerk Graham Flexman said: “We are sorry we cannot help financially at this stage, but we are keen to work with the memorial centre in ensuring its facilities remain available for the community as a whole.”
Disappointed by the refusal, Pete Davis, chairman of the centre’s management committee, confirmed it was closing its doors from Thursday, 5th November.
It will still host the nursery, as well as the blood sessions which take place around once a month.
“The biggest charge is utilities – the electric, water and gas. These are exceedingly large amounts of money that have to be paid even if we’re not using the centre,” he told the A&T.
“We’ve just got to hang in there a bit now. Once we get to the end of December, beginning of January, we should begin to pick up – we have had many enquiries from groups.
“We’ve got the largest hall anywhere between Southampton and Bournemouth, and we can seat 50 people at two metres’ distance all around. So we can comply with all the Covid and government legislation.”
Mr Davis said the centre’s manager and assistant manager recently changed their capacity to voluntary, and an online fundraising page was being planned.
Speaking to the A&T on Wednesday, Mr Luker pointed out the concerts and festivals the centre was renowned for hosting were its primary source of income before the Covid crisis.
This profit was complemented by sales made from the bar, which has since had to be cleared. Since March, income has mainly been from smaller use, such as a local dance club and presentations by local history group the Milton Heritage Society.
“We really are running at a loss – the costs are more than it makes to keep it open,” Mr Luker said.
Despite the rejected grant aid bid, Mr Luker was heartened by the town council’s continued support for the centre, citing proposals to transform it into New Milton’s community and cultural hub. However, this scheme – part of the emerging Neighbourhood Plan – is still some years in the future.
The centre is looking for more volunteers to help with its continued operation, and those interested can visit www.memcentre.co.uk/contact-us