Council bails out Towy Community Church with £50k cash and £50k loan extension

A BOWLING alley, food bank, community shop and furniture recycling project have been handed a lifeline by Carmarthenshire Council.

Executive board members agreed to provide Towy Community Church, which runs the Carmarthen projects, with a £50,000 grant and an extension of an existing loan by up to £50,000.

Income from the Xcel Bowl bowling centre, which supports the other charitable projects, has been hit hard by Covid restrictions.

Cllr Peter Hughes-Griffiths (pictured) said it would be “a disaster” if Xcel Bowl went under due to the support it provides to local families.

“This is a special case,” he said. “If they were not doing this work, it would be a big blow to us in Carmarthenshire.”

A report before the executive board said Carmarthen food bank helped nearly 3,200 people in 2019. Local people donated nearly 40 tonnes of food during the year. The furniture project collected and recycled more than 6,100 items.

In January and February this year Xcel Bowl made a £15,000 profit, but then the coronavirus pandemic struck. Plans to expand the centre were put on hold, and a number of staff were furloughed.

Xcel Bowl reopened with reduced capacity on August 3, but takings that month and in September were just over a third compared to normal.

Consideration was given to closing the centre – possibly for good – prompting trustees to approach the county council for support.

The funding will mean that it will continue to operate, albeit with reduced hours.

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Xcel Bowl operates at the former Johnstown creamery – and was backed originally by a £270,000 Carmarthenshire Council loan, of which £163,145 is still outstanding.

Executive board members suggested that council officers drew up criteria in case other community projects run out of options.

Council Leader Emlyn Dole said: “We don’t have an endless pot of money, but we need to be well prepared in our ability and agility to respond.”

Speaking after the November 16 meeting, Carmarthen Town South councillor and mayor of Carmarthen, Gareth John, said: “It’s very fortunate that such charitable projects exist and the public willingness to donate food, clothing and other items testifies to Carmarthen’s community spirit.”

Fellow ward councillor Alun Lenny said: “Making £50,000 available to support Xcel Bowl’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic will allow them to continue to trade and ensure the continuity of the food bank and other services, as well as providing job security for staff.

“The alternative would be unthinkable.”

In a statement, the trustees of Towy Community Church said they were delighted that the long-term work of the charity was recognised, and sincerely thanked the council for its ongoing support.

“This commitment, at a time when revenues have been drastically reduced due to Covid restrictions, secures our ability to plan for the future, which includes proceeding with the launch of the Carmarthen Community Money Advice Centre, to complement the work of Carmarthen Foodbank by addressing the poverty trap of debt and poor budgeting, and supporting those in Carmarthen and surrounding areas in need of assistance,” said the statement.

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