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Men’s Shed takeover of old Macduff school backed by councillors – but can group afford it?

The community group outside Fife Street School this summer.
The community group outside Fife Street School this summer.

A north-east Men’s Shed group today came a step closer to taking over an old school – despite fears the cost of the project could be a “millstone around their neck”.

Banff, Macduff and District Men’s Shed is eager to take the former Fife Street School in Macduff off the council’s hands via a community asset transfer.

The group first expressed an interest in the building in March last year.

As well as being a new base for members, they want it to become a community hub for local groups to use.

There are fears that various community organisations could otherwise be forced to fold, with no headquarters of their own.

The application for a 99-year lease was progressed by the Banff and Buchan Area Committee today – following some debate.

The building dates back to the 1930s. 

Council staff wanted to reject Men’s Shed bid for Fife Street School

Local authority officers had recommended the plan be refused.

They argued the group hadn’t given enough financial details in their application, leaving an “unclear picture of both current and future viability” of the project.

Addressing the officers’ concerns, group member Lynne Rae insisted the dispute was really a case of crossed wires.

She said the Men’s Shed had submitted what it thought would be the running costs for the building, which would fall short of the councils’s documented costs.

Lynne explained that the Men’s Shed had run out of space at its North Castle Street home in Banff.

She said members had been waiting and looking for a suitable new base “for a long time”, adding that the school building would be a “great asset to the community”.

Banff and Macduff Men’s Shed members inside the building this summer as they held an open day to let people know about the plans. 

Following debate councillor Mark Findlater moved that the application be approved.

However councillor Brian Topping said it should be refused, urging the group to work with council officers to get all the details in place.

He said: “If there is information needed that is necessary let’s get this sorted out and make sure it satisfies the criteria.

“The last thing I’d like to see is this group with a millstone around their neck.”

Councillor Michael Roy added: “I’m not against the Men’s Shed I just don’t want to set them up to fail.”

Members voted 6-3 to pass the proposal.

Why asset transfer is so important

Banff and Macduff Men’s Shed – with their dozens of members drawing upon years of trade and DIY projects – argue they would be perfectly placed to take the mothballed building on

Earlier this year, chairman Bob Copland told us: “If we don’t get Fife Street School there are quite a few groups that are just going to fold as there is nowhere else suitable.

“There are a lot of groups that used leisure centres and schools but because of Covid, they are not allowed back into schools.

“It will make things really difficult and we just want to do what we can to help.”

The asset transfer application will now go to the business services committee for the final say.

The former Fife Street School building was built in the 1930s and was used by North East Scotland College following its closure in 1969.

The building was put up for sale in 2020 and was considered for use as a Covid-19 vaccination and testing facility, however those plans were later withdrawn.

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