A LOCAL charity that has served an East End community for nearly 20 years is under threat due to a stalemate with its landlord.

Connect Community Trust fears for its future due to a seemingly unresolvable dispute with the housing association that owns the properties it works from.

For nearly a year Trust bosses have been engaged in a back-and-forth with Wellhouse Housing Association, which is now adamant Connect must move out.

Wellhouse HA claims the Trust has refused to sign vital legal documents and has prepared for an alternative charity to provide local services.

But Connect Connect says the rent has been doubled and it cannot afford to commit to the increased costs.

Harry Blackwood joined Connect as chairman six months ago and was hopeful of turning the situation around.

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The charity provides a wide range of services in Wellhouse and Provanhall from community allotments to youth services, a lunch club for pensioners and support for those with additional needs.

Harry said: "I grew up here so I've always been well aware of the work of the Trust and what they've done over the years trying to help to transform this local area.

"It was instrumental in helping to stop some of the gang fighting I used to participate in when I was a boy, and there's a whole range of real term benefits for the local community.

"I have a 20 year career in local government but in my role coming in as chair I've been really quite incredulous about what's been going on.

"Before covid-19 hit I had emailed Wellhouse to arrange a moratorium on any further action until we could have a sit down discussion to see if we could sort out a managed approach to a new relationship with me as a new chair.

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"If that was out of the question, then a managed approach to leaving and finding somewhere else so we didn't find ourselves homeless and all our activities having to stop.

"Instead we have had another lawyer's letter telling us we should have moved out by now."

Although they have always been separate entities, the Trust and the social landlord had long had a close relationship with community members serving on the boards of both organisations.

Connect has three premises in Wellhouse: The Hub, which is also the housing association's head office; Innerzone, which it rents from Wellhouse HA; and Hub Sports, which it owns.

The charity has been told it must move from The Hub, where it does not pay rent but pays for utilities, with immediate effect after refusing to sign a lease agreement and pay increased rates.

It rents Innerzone from Wellhouse HA but the rent there has been more than doubled from £1000 per quarter to £2125, which it says it cannot afford.

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Bosses said losing The Hub and Innerzone would mean the end of more than half a dozen services.

Pauline Smith, chief executive of Connect, said: "We were instrumental in having The Hub built. It was always meant to be a community facility and it attracted external funding due to our work as a charity.

"When relationships are good you don't really think of these things but in hindsight we should have put ourselves on the paperwork as in ownership with them.

"But things had been going so well and there was a mutual benefit of what they would get out of us and what we would get out of them.

"Now we stand to lose our home in The Hub where we have been for 16 years.

"I don't know where we would move to, especially as we are in the middle of a pandemic."

Lesley Copeland, has volunteered with Connect for 12 years, having also served on the committee of Wellhouse.

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She runs the charity's allotments and works with people with additional support needs.

Lesley said: "I was born in Wellhouse and stayed here all my life so I like to volunteer because there's lots of deprivation here and every little thing helps.

"We have tried everything but it's at the end of the line now."

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Vice chair of Connect, Linda Granger, runs the lunch club and says The Hub is vital as it's the only centre with a kitchen and appropriate dining space for her pensioners.

Linda, who has lived in Wellhouse for 59 years, said: "This situation is ripping the heart out of the community. I hate to see pals, neighbours, friends let down.

"Our lunch club is a vital part of this area and we never turn anyone away. It's important for the mental health of our pensioners and cutting down on isolation.

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"I am quite disgusted that we might lose it but I don't see what can happen next."

In 2017 Wellhouse HA was under scrutiny from the Scottish Housing Regulator after the watchdog found significant failings at the social landlord.

A whistleblower came forward in 2014 and a series of what were called "deeply disturbing" issues were uncovered including financial mismanagement and cronyism

After an investigation a new manager was parachuted in and the regulator has now withdrawn from Wellhouse saying it is satisfied with the current running of the organisation.

Its new management team also says the landlord has worked extremely hard to turn its fortunes around and now must be absolutely scrupulous when it comes to any legal obligations.

A spokeswoman for Wellhouse Housing Association said: “As a local charity and housing association, it is a legal requirement that all our tenants – 800 domestic and five non-domestic - sign a lease, adhere to that lease and pay the rent set for the property.

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"We cannot exclude any other party from this arrangement.

"As an organisation we cannot repeat the mistake that Wellhouse Housing Association made in the past and we have taken advice from all our external advisers including lawyers, regulators and insurers.

"We have an alternative provider of community services lined up who has agreed to pay the associated charges and have already completed all due diligence.”

During lockdown the Trust received funds from Wellhouse HA to provide food parcels and support to housing association tenants.

It had hoped this showed an improvement in the relationship but Pauline then received a lawyer's letter saying the Trust must still move with a deadline of July 17.

Pauline said the Trust could not sign the required documents because it would mean agreeing to the rent hike.

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She said: "I completely understand the implications of what went on in the past and we would bend over backwards to sort this out but we are not being listened to.

"Our staff and volunteers are Wellhouse tenants so they are putting their tenants out of their own community.

"You are ultimately evicting your tenants from their own services."