Residents in Portobello are currently being asked to vote in a ballot which is part of the Scottish Government’s Community Right to Buy process. What is this ballot about, and why should residents vote?
In simple terms this is a ballot to ensure that a much-loved community building is retained within the community, and remains a community asset – safeguarding affordable meeting and activity space for community groups, local families and local people.
The campaign to take the former Portobello Old Parish church and halls into community ownership is being spearheaded by Action Porty, a member-led organisation established several months ago, for the express purpose of this task.
Through extensive community consultations, Action Porty have developed plans to create a multi-purpose community hub – an attractive, flexible and fully accessible resource, in a way which respects and enhances the wonderful heritage of the property. In addition to space for community groups and organisations, it is envisaged that the facility would be used for weddings and other life-celebrations, community and social events, and as a venue for performance and other arts activities. The plan also involves reopening the cafe and providing a home for local history and heritage materials.
However, this initiative is part of a larger challenge – one faced by communities up and down Scotland. How do we create good places – vibrant communities where people want to live, work and play? Building much-needed housing is fine – as long as it is accompanied by investment in the necessary infrastructure to accommodate all sorts of community activity.
Portobello typifies what is fast becoming a national trend – extensive new housing development being paralleled by a decrease in community and amenity facilities! Action Porty wants Portobello to continue to be a great place to live and raise families, but to do so we need to have facilities which can accommodate all kinds of community needs and activity, including the creation of employment, training and volunteering opportunities.
Despite offering full market value at the outset of the campaign, Action Porty has had to go through a challenging Community Right to Buy process to ensure that the former Portobello Old Parish Church is sold to the community. The ballot – to evidence community support for the community buy-out – is virtually the last stage of this process.
Action Porty has had tremendous backing from the community to get to this point – achieving the first urban community right to buy registration and raising almost £600,000 to buy the church and halls.
The future of the former Portobello Old Parish Church, now lies in the hands of local people. If the community wants to see the project progress, they need to vote, and they need to vote “Yes”. Ballot papers must be returned to the Electoral Reform Centre by noon on April 3.
Ian Cooke is an Action Porty board member and company secretary