Edinburgh's "lifeline" Muirhouse Millennium Centre could be forced to close
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An Edinburgh community centre which has been a “lifeline” to the most vulnerable for over 20 years could be forced to shut its doors within months due a lack of funding.
Users warned that the heart of the Muirhouse community would be ripped out if its cherished Millennium Centre is allowed to close for good, as staff, volunteers and local residents called on the council to step in as a matter or urgency.
Since opening in 2000 the centre has helped thousands facing poverty, hardship, homelessness and mental health struggles, offering support with budgeting, parenting, housing and essential life skills. Staff said the centre often “saves lives” and have estimated their wide range of services have saved the council over £1 million in the last nine months alone.
However Edinburgh City Council’s funding for the Muirhouse Millennium Centre has been whittled away over the years, receiving an annual £107,000 grant at its inception, reducing to £50,000 by 2009 and just over £7,500 in 2019.
“Now we get nothing,” said Peter Airlie, who has managed the community centre since it opened. “Not being a council building, we’re not funded by the council anymore.”
While some funding comes from Low Income Families Together (LIFT), the charity which has operated in the centre since 2017, and from various groups hiring rooms, Peter said the money coming in is not enough to keep the lights on in the long-term and that an annual £40,000 cash injection is needed to secure its future.
“We’ve been using our funds to put on as many activities as we can and keep people alive – literally saving people’s lives,” he said, “but we can’t do it all and it’s time the council stood up and helped.”
He added the centre could have to close by June unless a solution is found. As well as reaching out to the council, staff have launched a fundraiser seeking £80,000 to sustain the building for the next two years, with nearly £4,000 donated so far.
Kelly Bain, a service user and now a volunteer, said she “wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the centre”. She first walked through its doors four-and-a-half years ago, not long after giving birth to her son. “The day I came here I was very suicidal,” she admitted. “I was in homelessness when I got into touch with these guys and they saved me.”
On top of this, she had been experiencing domestic abuse and was left with ‘no money or support’. “It was the hardest time of my life and they got me through it,” she remembered.
“I was homeless for so long, the council were refusing to help, weren’t giving my wee man a cot – there were loads of difficulties. I was put in touch with a solicitor that got us out of homelessness and into temporary accommodation.
“It’s been a great support, I wouldn’t have been able to get by financially if it wasn’t for here – I wouldn’t have my life and my wee boy wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the centre and the people in it.”
A group from the centre recently attended a meeting at the City Chambers to lay bare to councillors the grave situation they face. Stacey Bain – no relation to Kelly – described the community centre as her “second home”.
She said: “It all started because I was in a flat for 10 years and my landlord decided to sell her flat whilst I was pregnant. A friend suggested I come here. All my benefits got stopped as well so when it came to school time I had no school uniform whatsoever and it was the centre that helped.
“I came here feeling terrible, basically broke down and I walked away feeling quite buzzed. I thought ‘there are people that do care’. If I didn’t have this centre I don’t know where I’d be living.”
She warned many people would be “left with nowhere to go” if it is forced to close, adding crime rates would go “through the roof” locally as it would give way to a rise in anti-social behaviour.
“I don’t understand how the council can allow this centre to be at risk because look at what this centre does for the community,” Stacey said.
Meanwhile, Peter said LIFT’s arrival five years ago has allowed the centre to thrive, offer even more services and weekly classes. He said Muirhouse Millennium Centre and the charity “work perfect together”.
LIFT’s founder and director Pauline Bowie said: “If you come and you can’t afford to pay your rent or can’t afford your bills or you’ve had a notice to quit, you’re going to come through that door crying. Something like this needs to be in a community centre. It’s a lifeline for people.
“It’s time the council stood up and helped. I can’t even imagine what we’re saving the statutory services. I want a working partnership with the council. I think we’re worth it.”
Following the plea made at February’s full council meeting, councillors unanimously called on officers to engage with the board of the Muirhouse Millennium Centre to “provide advice and support on how the centre can continue on a sustainable financial basis”.
Local councillor for Muirhouse Lewis Younie said: “The Muirhouse Millennium Centre is an integral and beloved part of the community – its loss would devastate every one of the many families who find it a warm, friendly, and supportive environment.
“The motion I proposed at that meeting, passed unanimously, called on support from council officers to help the centre chart its next steps, which will be pivotal. I will be right there alongside ward colleagues, the staff and community, and anyone else who is willing to get involved.
“This centre not only improves lives but saves them, every day, and it is a travesty they are even having to consider closure.”