Buildings are hit by funding crisis

The ownership of community buildings could become a liability for voluntary groups because there is not enough public funding on offer to pay for essential maintenance, a leading third sector network has warned.

Ben Hughes, chief executive of Bassac, the national network of multi-purpose community-based organisations, said many buildings owned by community organisations were in a "state of extreme disrepair and unfit for purpose".

Repairing damaged buildings was high on the agenda of community organisations, he said, but there was little public money available.

He said that the lack of public funding could damage the fabric of the community sector by allowing centres to fall into disrepair.

In April, the Big Lottery Fund's £50m Community Buildings programme - which offered grants ranging from £50,000 to £500,000 to fund improvements to buildings - closed to applications.

A spokeswoman for the BLF said there were no plans to offer more funding as part of the community buildings programme, but added that there was a possibility the BLF could announce extra funding as part of its next phase of programmes from 2009.

There are no government funding programmes specifically for the upkeep of community buildings. But a spokesman for the Office of the Third Sector said community bodies could apply to its £80m small grants fund for the funding of repairs.

The OTS has also launched the £30m community assets programme to facilitate the transfer of disused local authority assets to third sector ownership or control (Third Sector Online, 6 September).

But Hughes said the programme, which is administered by the BLF, was "ostensibly for local authorities". He warned that such assets transferred to voluntary organisations could become a liability for their new owners.

"Buildings in poor condition will become worse, and the fabric of the community sector will suffer," he said.

The lack of funding was compounded by the fact that some community organisations lacked the experience to present sophisticated business cases to the private sector to secure funding, Hughes said.

He added that collaboration between community organisations should be encouraged to make better strategic use of existing community services.

Some of Bassac's members had been successful in obtaining funding from housing associations, but most were trying to get funds from different sources, he added.

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