|Putney Sea Scouts Prepare to Repel Boarders|
Council want to take possession of hut to gain access for disability group
The future of the 5th Putney Sea Scouts hangs in the balance according to the group's leaders and a meeting is to be held to discuss plans by the Council to take possession of the Scout Hut on Barn Elms. They would then be asked to share the building with a learning disability project despite the belief of the group leaders that the hut is too small to accommodate both organisations.
5th Putney Sea Scouts
Up until last year the group shared the hut near Putney Embankment with the Better Days Project which is part of the Council's Learning Disability Day Service.
When it was becoming apparent that shared occupancy of the building was causing some issues the Council approached the sea scouts' committee suggesting that they take on full responsibility for the building and the scouts would be given a licence to guaranteeing their continued use of the premises. The offer was declined with the scouts claiming that as the building was built and funded by them, they should be able to determine who was entitled to use it. They then served notice to the Better Days Project that the shared use agreement was to be terminated.
The Council then served notice on the scouts that their 'tenancy' was to end on 17th July 2015 with the Council taking possession of the building but continuing to let the scouts use it under licence. The Sea Scouts are only willing to enter into discussion about shared use if they have their lease renewed.
The group has operated within Putney since 1937 and in 1973 moved to its present location when a lease for 21 years was granted by the Greater London Council (GLC). The Scout Hut was built using funds collected and donated by the families of scouts and cubs at the time to allow it to move from its previous HQ in St Mary's School, Felsham Road. Subsequently, the lease was renewed by the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham who initially took over responsibility for Barn Elms with the demise of the GLC. This lease expired in 1999 and the group say that no extension was given despite several requests being made to Wandsworth Borough council.
David J King, the Sea Scouts Treasurer says, "Early in 2010 we were approached by the Learning Disability Day Service - Better Days Project to allow them use of our Scout Hut and as this was a service to the community we did everything in our power to accommodate them. This included, to date, spending in excess of £25,000 to make improvements to the site, some of which they requested. We also had to ask a home education group to give up their Monday afternoon session."
"At the time that the Better Days Project moved in to the Scout Hut we were presented with a draft licence in order to make the arrangement more formal. At that time we would have willingly issued the licence, subject to participation by The Scout Association, but since the licence would be issued pursuant to our lease we were unable to complete the document as the lease issued by Hammersmith had expired. Once again we asked for Wandsworth to renew our lease which, unfortunately has never happened."
Mr King says that it eventually became apparent that the hut was too small for both organisations to occupy and that the Better Days Project 'were gradually taking over' their offices and the scouts lost the girls' shower cubicle which became storage for the disability group.
He says, "On balance we decided that it was no longer in the best interests of the Sea Scout Group to continue with the sharing arrangement and gave notice to them on 4th February 2014. They eventually left on 1st August after we pressed them to leave, having been told by a respected Putney resident that he understood that the Better Days Project had no intention of leaving."
Mr King disputes the description by Cllr Jim Madden of the scout hut as the 'home' of the Better Days Project in an open letter published on this site earlier this month.
He says, "the site is an exceptionally beautiful, peaceful location and a wonderful environment for young people. We have kept it that way and is one reason why we have stayed here for more than 40 years. It is also an obvious reason why a third party might look enviously on the site. This, however, does not give them the right to simply take over. We have been in Putney for more than 77 years in all and intend to remain for another 77 years at least."
The group believe that it would be very hard for them to find alternative accommodation as they need to remain by the riverside due to the nature of the activities they offer whereas there would be many more sites within Wandsworth where the Better Days Project could relocate.
Cllr. Madden said in his open letter, "It is of course deeply regrettable that an agreement could not be reached through a simple, friendly dialogue. Both the day service and the scouts are treasured institutions which play vital roles in our community. I understand that many local people will be anxious to see this situation resolved as soon as possible and I want to reassure residents that we are committed to reaching an agreement that ensures both parties can use this site for decades to come."
A public meeting is to take place at the Scout Hut which is on the Thames tow path in Putney just beyond Beverley Brook Bridge. It will start at 7.00pm on Friday 23rd January and the group hope to use this meeting to launch a serious publicity campaign. They are also threatening legal action if the Council do not back down.