A COMMUNITY centre in Fordingbridge that is in need of urgent repairs to its roof has moved a step closer after being granted planning permission for work to go ahead.

New Forest District Council approved a planning application to replace the roof at Avonway Community Centre with a cheaper alternative of slate, helping to reduce the estimated cost of the project, which will also involve the removal of two Victorian chimneys.

A £70,000 fundraising appeal was launched last year to repair the building’s leaky roof and make the facility watertight.

The chairman of Avonway Community Centre, Chris Calder, said: “We are extremely grateful for the decision and for the support that the application received from Fordingbridge Town Council.

“Using natural slate would have cost tens of thousands more, and there would have been a danger that if we could not raise the extra money Avonway would have to close, which would have been disastrous for the local community.

“We are also very grateful to Avonway trustee Iain Kidson for his detailed and cogent case in support of our application.”

The centre, which is located in Shaftesbury Street, hosts more than 30 community groups and charities, including the Rae Straton Luncheon Club and Fordingbridge Day Centre to name just a few.

Fordingbridge Town Council supported the application.

In a letter to NFDC the town council said: “We have considered carefully the balance between the architectural heritage value of the Avonway building and its crucial function as the town’s community centre.

“In our view any harm from these proposals to the architectural heritage is insignificant. We believe that extra cost of using natural slate would threaten the viability of the community association, and put at risk the security of the optimum viable use currently provided by the community centre.

“This function we consider to be critical to the wellbeing of Fordingbridge.”

The NFDC report says the council’s heritage officer felt removing the chimneys and re-roofing the building using non-natural slates would fail to preserve the character of the conservation area. But pointed out that Avonway is not a listed building and has been altered on several occasions.

It also highlighted fears the cost of preserving the building’s current appearance would result in it becoming unviable, putting it at risk of closure.

The centre says that although the roof replacement will require professional input, the chimneys will be taken down by members of Fordingbridge Rotary, saving some £2,000.

It will now be seeking quotations for the work and hope the initial fundraising target of £70,000 will be “substantially” reduced. Applications for grant funding will be submitted by the centre once quotations have been received.

But there is still need to raise more money and further fundraising initiatives are in the pipeline.

A sponsored walk is being planned; the Fordingbridge Camera Club have promised to donate photographs to be raffled at its annual show on May 15 and 16. A fashion show and raffle is being held on March 28, which is being organised jointly with the local Cancer Research branch, and will be a substantial fundraiser for both organisations.

More than £5,000 has already been raised. To donate to the appeal go to giveasyoulive.com/join/avonway or call 01425 652706 or enquiries@avonway.org for more information or to get involved in fundraising.