Vassall Centre may be sold but services will continue
CONSULTATIONS have begun on the future of the nationally-acclaimed Vassall Centre in Fishponds.
The trustees who own the site are anxious to make it clear that the centre is not closing down as the services which are provided will continue.
But one of the long-term options is to sell off the three-acre site for redevelopment.
This would mean that the 17 disability organisations which currently use the site would have to find themselves new premises.
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The centre – a former rehab hospital for wounded American servicemen during the Second World War – is owned by a charity called the Vassall Centre Trust.
For the past 14 years, it has rented out space to disability organisations which provide services to people from Bristol, South Gloucestershire and the South West region.
But the trust recognises that the buildings are well past their shelf-life and will soon become too expensive to repair.
The collection of one-storey pre-fab style buildings need new roofing, a new heating system, rewiring and properly insulated walls.
The costs involved would be much more than the trustees could recoup in rent from the disability organisations that use them.
In addition, new legislation is due to be introduced in 2018 which will improve standards for new buildings. It means that the outdated premises at the Vassall Centre will not be able to compete with cheaper, more modern office space elsewhere.
Instead of providing office space, the trustees want to redirect their efforts to helping disabled people find work in the community.
Andy Rickell, chief executive of the trust, said: "The key thing is that we are still open for business – we are not closing and we want to ensure that all the good things that happen at the Vassall Centre continue to happen.
"But they may not continue in the same way and not necessarily on this site."
Trustees' chairman Gordon Richardson said: "Sadly, we have come to the conclusion that the trust can no longer operate the centre effectively and therefore we have decided to concentrate our efforts on creating employment opportunities for disabled people.
"We will, during the next few months, be discussing the future with our tenants and stakeholders including the use of the building.
"We want to support all our tenants in every way we can."
He said any changes would not happen "overnight" but it was important to start taking steps now in order that they could be introduced as seamlessly as possible.
He said: "As we are disabled ourselves, we understand the needs of disabled people and it is at the forefront of our minds to do the best for them at all times."
Mr Rickell said they were interested in hearing from any organisations who were interested in buying the site.
He said: "By starting this consultation, we are giving external parties a chance to talk to us about the centre's future in a positive way."
After the war, part of the site was used by the artificial limb and appliance centre. Four other wings were shared by the Ministry of Defence and Inland Revenue.
After they all moved out, the site stood empty for a number of years before the Disabled Living Centre took over some of the buildings.
The Crown's Property Services Agency wanted to sell the site with planning permission for housing but the Vassall Centre Trust's former charity bought the site from the Government which allowed disability organisations to rent out space.