Disabled centre facing axe amid funds probe

PHOTO. KEVIN McGUINNESS'The SPACE Centre Manager Alison Shorrock (left) with Community Fund Raiser Hilary Holden outside the unfinished Centre
PHOTO. KEVIN McGUINNESS'The SPACE Centre Manager Alison Shorrock (left) with Community Fund Raiser Hilary Holden outside the unfinished Centre
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For almost 20 years Preston’s Space Centre has been providing vital services severely disabled people across Lancashire and beyond.

But today, the centre is in dire straits thanks to an £800,000 funding black hole.

Detectives have confirmed they are investigating claims of “financial irregularities...in relation to an ex-employee” at the Pedders Lane 
facility which led bosses to 
believe grant money was on its way to the centre, when in fact the cash had never even been applied for.

It has left the Ashton centre with a £350,000 debt for building work which is partially finished and £150,000 for design work already carried out.

And if that cash cannot be found urgently, the entire centre risks closing down.

Today a desperate appeal was made for fundraising help.

Alison Shorrock, centre manager at the Space Centre, said: “The Trustees and centre staff are absolutely devastated. This has left us in a dire situation now where we need to pay the builders and other contractors who are being incredibly supportive. We are desperately trying to avoid going into administration.

“If we have to sell the building to someone and lease it back, we would find this very difficult as we do not operate with the intention of making a profit, we operate purely to keep the centre open.”

The Space Centre first opened in 1993. In March 2011, bosses bought the next door building with grant funding as part of plans to create better facilities for the centre users. A major building project has since been underway to transform the premises.

Bosses at the centre employed a grant funding manager in 2010 to apply for grants for the project.

More than £750,000 towards the project was secured, and £800,000 from the Heritage Lottery fund is also on its way.

But a further £800,000-plus, which Trustees were assured was on its way, will never be received because the money was either never applied for or applications were rejected.

The problem was only uncovered last month when the promised cash never arrived in the Space Centre bank account. It was then that Alison and other staff started contacting the organisations who were supposed to be providing the grants – and discovered no money had been applied for.

“When the money didn’t come into the bank account we started ringing round foundations and found, to our horror, that none of the grants existed,” added Alison. “Not only could we lose the building, we would lose the existing building as well, which would affect hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities.”

Det Insp Jo Edwards, of Preston CID, said: “We have been made aware of a report regarding financial irregularities made in relation to an ex-employee and inquiries are ongoing to establish the full facts.” Anyone who wishes to donate to Save Our SPACE can contact community fund raiser Hilary Holden on 01772 760403.