Aid needed for flood-hit Hitchin community centre left suffering after helping democracy

Westmill Community Association centre manager Emma Connor.

Westmill Community Association centre manager Emma Connor. - Credit: Archant

A Hitchin community centre’s brave bid to ensure the wheels of democracy ran smoothly saw them pay a high price last week.

Westmill Community Centre on John Barker Place suffered from the recent heavy rains including flash floods when they refused to close to the public as a polling station during Thursday’s EU referendum.

Their gallant actions in remaining open despite large-scale flooding enabled more than 700 people living nearby to cast their vote at the site – despite having the floor of the centre ruined.

Their previously well-kept wooden parguet flooring – laid 40 years ago when the centre opened in 1976 – suffered extensive damage, forcing the centre to cancel more than 20 community groups who use the centre in the past few days.

Centre manager Emma Connor said: “The floor has ‘come up’ as the heavy rainfall blocked drains forcing rainwater underneath the centre. As the heat and humidity returned the water expanded, pushing the flooring up.

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“This means we can’t host any of our community groups and have cancelled lots of groups from dance, to churches to over-50s friendship groups to kids and ballet lessons.

“It’s heartbreaking as we’ve got a brand new centre 20 yards away which we’re still waiting to be opened.

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“We don’t need the council to replace our flooring as we’re hopefully moving soon – but we do need them to provide around £3,000 for us to patch it up so we are able to continue to operate as a base for many community groups.”

North Herts District Council’s Tony Hunter, responsible for community services, said: “The heavy rainfall this month caused the floor of the old centre to lift and split causing it to be closed to all hirers for safety reasons.

“Alternative locations have been found for some, but due to short notice it’s not been possible to relocate them all.”

However, Emma is determined to get the centre open again – and is appealing for a builder to give an hour or two of their services if the council can’t help. She added: “We stayed open to help democracy function and now we’ve suffered. All we want to do is to help people by being able to host community groups. So if there are any builders out there who are feeling generous please get in touch!”

There is still no opening date for the new centre. Councillor Hunter added: “We hope to get the new facility up and running soon.”

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