Birmingham woman who runs council community hall is ‘paying out of own pocket’ to keep lights on

Patricia Hollingshead says she believes the council should be paying the utility bills for Manniford Hall in Druids Heath
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A woman who runs a local community hall in Druids Heath has claimed she has paid out of her own pocket to keep the lights on. Without the hall, she said elderly neighbours in her local area “would go hungry”. Patricia Hollingshead, 67, has been running Manniford Hall since 2013. Located on Bells Lane, the retired pharmacist explained the hall has “barely recovered” from the pandemic, and that Birmingham city council have not contributed enough to keep the hall from closure.

Ms Hollingshead’s troubles first began during the coronavirus pandemic, when community halls across the country closed. She cancelled the cost to have the hall’s bins collected, as footfall had dramatically decreased. She claims Birmingham city council called bailiffs on her. She said she is still paying the bailiffs.

Karen Urwin, left, and Patricia Hollingshead, right, outside Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath. Karen Urwin, left, and Patricia Hollingshead, right, outside Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath.
Karen Urwin, left, and Patricia Hollingshead, right, outside Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath.

She said: “I have no money coming in because of our hall being shut, so I cancelled the direct debits I didn’t pay and they put me in the bailiff’s hands which I’m paying £100 a month. We’ve made five payments of £100 a month to Dukes Bailiffs.

“I had a letter come last week saying they want £200 pounds off me for care and protection of the bin we haven’t had since January because they have taken it back. The letter is dated from 1st July this year to September.”

Mrs Hollingshead said she has had to use the help of her community to pay for the hall’s broken boiler. “The butcher gave us £1,000. Me and my husband put £500 and one of the committee members put £500 towards the boiler. The last £1,000 was from Manniford Hall committee accounts.

“The only grant the council gave us was the £150 coronavirus relief grant. They also gave us two social-distancing stickers. We had to buy towel holders and gels at one point so really it cost us more than 150 pounds.”

Council didn’t help after break in

A break in the run-up to the Platinum Jubilee caused more distress for Ms Hollingshead. When she asked for help, Birmingham city council emailed her: “The council may have carried out work in the past through goodwill gesture. But given our current financial position there is a freeze on spending across the council.

“As part of the control measure on spending the council set up a Property Spend Control Board back in November 2011. [It] will only approve work that has health and safety impact such as Legionella testing.”

The break in at Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath. Copyright Patricia Hollingshead. With permission for all LDRS to use.The break in at Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath. Copyright Patricia Hollingshead. With permission for all LDRS to use.
The break in at Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath. Copyright Patricia Hollingshead. With permission for all LDRS to use.

The problem, Mrs Hollingshead claims, is the lease between Manniford Hall and Birmingham city council. She has disputed the council’s claim she is liable for utility payments. She said: “We pay them the rents. We asked in February for the lease to be changed, but they say our rents will increase. [They] don’t tell us how much the rent will increase. The lease is from 1969, and in my opinion, they are taking bits and bobs out of this lease and making their own rules up.”

Manniford Hall, to Ms Hollingshead, means everything to her. “Without the community centre, there would be nothing,” she said. “I managed to get a little bit of funding to keep hosting our Thursday lunch club for the elderly. We made 60 meal, and sometimes I would deliver them myself. I know I’m old myself, but I don’t want to put them back into isolation. It breaks my heart. We haven’t got mega bucks in the bank.”

She claimed: “We’ve hardly got any user groups anymore. And I’m still paying the gas and electric, and according to the lease, they are supposed to be paying all the utility bills.”

The break in at Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath. Copyright Patricia Hollingshead. With permission for all LDRS to use.The break in at Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath. Copyright Patricia Hollingshead. With permission for all LDRS to use.
The break in at Manniford Hall, in Druids Heath. Copyright Patricia Hollingshead. With permission for all LDRS to use.

Julien Pritchard, councillor for Druids Heath & Monyhull, said: “The community centres in Druids Heath, like Manningford Hall, do so much hard work for the community, but don’t seem to see the support from the council in return.

“Volunteers work hard to look after Manningford Hall, a vital community resource, at no cost to the council. They also work hard to support the community, particularly during Covid-19, for example helping to feed those in need.

“But the council doesn’t seem to recognise this, and doesn’t give the support to our community centres they deserve. It feels like the council is always looking to dodge responsibility and for reasons not to support Manningford Hall.

“The council needs to get much better at supporting Manningford Hall and all our fantastic community organisations.”

What has the city council said?

A spokesperson for Birmingham city council, said: “As part of the lease agreement between the council and Manningford Hall, the organisation pays the council a peppercorn rent of £192 per annum, which equates to £16 per month. Regarding the repair responsibilities, the council are responsible for external and structural repairs, however, this does not include fixtures and fittings that are the responsibility of the management committee of the hall.

“During the past five years, the council has carried out structural repairs worth approximately £19,000, which included major repairs in 2021. With regard to the query about insurance, the Birmingham city council policy cover is restricted to fire, lightning, aircraft and explosion only.

“Community building management committees have been informed historically that it is their responsibility to have in place public liability, building and content insurance. The Housing Management Resident Involvement team have held regular meetings with the committee to explain the lease, and their responsibilities, and will continue to provide information which may be useful to Mrs Hollingsworth.”

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