Weightlifters lose pavilion base to community football club

Bathgate Amateur Weightlifting Club has been told to find a new home to allow Bathgate Thistle Community Football Club to take over a dilapidated council pavilion.

Bathgate weightlifters lose pavilion base to community football club Getty Images

Plans by a football club to take on the management of a dilapidated council pavilion have split a West Lothian town.

An eight week consultation in Bathgate exposed deep divisions between sports clubs and community organisations in the town and the rapidly expanding Bathgate Thistle Community Football Club.

The decision means that Bathgate Amateur Weightlifting Club, which has occupied the changing rooms at Meadowpark Pavilion for more than a decade, will have to quit and a find a new home by August.

Objectors, including the town’s community council, said the decision which affects the park gifted to the people of Bathgate, flies in the face of the Common Good definition – that the asset is for the benefit of the whole community.  

The community council said the Community Football Club was being “unreasonable in demanding exclusive use of the pavilion and stubborn in its refusal to agree a solution which would accommodate everyone”.

Opponents of the plan said they had been intimidated.

One objector, Billy Weir, told councillors “he was left shaking” after receiving abuse. 

West Lothian councillors voted to support plans presented by officers from Property Services to award the lease to the Community Football Club. The council Executive agreed to a five year Full Repairing and Insuring Community Benefit lease.

The pavilion is one of around a dozen across the county either being sold off, leased or demolished as part of savings the council has to make.

Steven Kenny from the weightlifting club told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Can I just say how how disappointed we are.”

Mr Kenny said the council’s Property Services staff had known the situation the weightlifting club was in from the start of the discussions last year. He described the outcome as “an agenda-driven shambles”.  

The weightlifting club, first founded in the mid 1950s, has 14 members. It has argued in the past that the club and the town’s Community Centre Management Association should be considered as a leaseholder. 

The club has been made homeless previously by the closure of the  former community centre. Promises of space in the Jim Walker Partnership building in South Bridge Street were later withdrawn because there was not enough room.

The town’s adult football team, Bathgate Thistle, said it had been excluded from any discussions on the future of Meadowpark from the outset and feared the decision will allow the community club to monopolise pitch and facilities at a time when it and other football teams are struggling to find playing and changing spaces. 

The club did not object to improvements and welcomed the investment in the sport but feared it would bring no wider benefit to the adult team. 

Robert Napier, the chairman of Bathgate Thistle, told the councillors that giving the community football club  monopoly control of the pavilion is “basically stifling our growth.” 

He added that the consultation had created a “fair bit of animosity” in the town and promises of consultation once the lease had been awarded might not come to anything given the ill will that has been generated by the process.

The community football club has outlined plans for refurbishment of the pavilion including financial backing from the Scottish Football Association. 

They had offered use of a storage container to the weightlifting club to store equipment and they asserted that they were prepared to strengthen and widen existing community links.  

A report to the Executive said by Property Services said: “BTCFC have engaged widely with their community via a number of methods and have provided strong evidence of widespread community support for the proposal. The proposal is further supported by key community partners in the form of SMILE Counselling SCIO (a local mental health charity) and the Scottish Football Association.” 

John Redmond, for the community football club, conceded  at the meeting of the Executive that they would have priority use of the facilities. The club has secured funding to improve the building.

Objections have also come from the Friends of Meadow Park and from Bathgate Community Centre Management Committee and Bathgate Together.

Mr Weir, the chair of the Community Centre Management Committee, told the Executive that  during the consultation period he had felt threatened after encounters with parents, which “left him shaking”, and afraid to go out to walk his dogs because of his objections to the club plan.  

The community football club is big, with 500 registered players, almost a fifth of them women and girls. It has grown to the one of biggest in Scotland in just ten years. 

After lengthy debate councillors agreed to monitor public use of the Meadowpark pavilion and to regularly seek evidence of wider community use of the facility. Proposals that council officers work further  to find alternative venues for the weightlifters were also accepted.

An amendment from Conservative group leader Damian Doran-Timson calling for an agreement to be drawn up between the community football club and other groups and brought back to the Executive for approval was defeated  by nine votes to two.

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