Outdoor centre facing almost certain closure after council loan request refused

MEPAL Outdoor Centre is facing closure within a matter of weeks after a request for emergency funding was turned down by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

In July, the council was contacted by the centre’s charitable trust which was seeking a loan or grant of �85,000 to help ease cash flow problems.

According to its latest accounts, published by the Charity Commission, the centre spent �399,686 in the 2011 financial year but only received �356,295, a deficit of some �43,391.

The shortfall follows similar losses of �4,545 in 2010, �40,166 in 2009 and �31,416 in 2008.

According to the council, the centre was provided with a loan of �30,000 in 1993 which it says was never repaid and was a factor in its refusal to provide further funds on this occasion.

The authority also said that no detailed business plan or strategy for improvement and income generation had been developed despite the serious financial situation.

A spokesman said: “We are deeply saddened the trust has not been able to develop a sustainable business but unfortunately we cannot continue to use tax payers money to support an operator which is unable to break even.

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“We will continue to provide officer support to the trust as they look to determine their future. Should the trust decide to cease trading, the facility will return to the ownership of the district council as the landlord and we will then look at how best to utilise the site for the benefit of the residents.”

The council says it provided “significant support” to help set up the centre, including a 99-year lease on a peppercorn rent and more than �700,000 of investment into the facility, in Chatteris Road.

Fiona Wynn, who volunteers at the centre, said: “The staff, trustees and other volunteers have all worked unbelievably hard over a very short period of time to increase the income for the charity over the crucial summer period. Unfortunately, time, weather and blue green algae have all contributed in us failing to achieve sufficient funds to keep the centre going through this winter.

“All of us involved with the centre are desperately sad to see such an amazing place, with so much potential being shut, but given the time scales there does not appear to be any viable alternative.”

Mrs Wynn added that if anyone could suggest any solutions for the future of the centre they should please e-mail the centre urgently - admin@mepal.co.uk marking it for the attention of the trustees chairman.