It is a major regeneration project that has been five years in the making.
Now work has finally finished on the £10.8m futuristic-looking community hub spanning Winston Churchill Avenue in the heart of Portsmouth.
Yesterday, The News joined city leaders as they were given a tour of the impressive glass-panelled building, which was named Somers Town Central following a consultation with the community.
With its huge wooden arches, which weigh five tonnes each, and vast, airy rooms and corridors, the development takes up 4,000sq m of floor space and breathes new life into the inner city.
Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council and the Conservative group, said: ‘The building is inspiring and links two parts of Somers Town.
‘It will ensure there are provisions for young people and the elderly through speech therapy, language therapy and other things like podiatry which will enrich the lives of the people living in this area.’
The hub will house Southsea Community Centre, currently in King Street, Southsea, and local groups can use a dance studio, cafe and sports hall.
Brook Club, a youth centre based in Sackville Street, will move in and have space where children can learn how to cook, play video games and watch TV, relax on sofas and play table tennis.
They will also have their own garden to enjoy.
Other features include a café, NHS health clinic with services like podiatry and specialist dentistry as well as a council housing office serving tenants in the south of the city.
The office will have a reception area where local residents living in council property can pay rent, air grievances they may have about where they live and receive other support and advice.
The new tenants will move in this summer once their spaces are all kitted out.
Lin Sharpe, who has been manager of Southsea Community Centre for 20 years, said it was going to be a new era and couldn’t wait to move in and start afresh.
She was in awe at how impressive the hub looked.
‘It’s a beautiful building,’ she said.
‘Where we are at the moment is an old building which doesn’t have a lift, and older people can’t get up the stairs and take part in activities.
‘But over here, there is a lift, and lots of facilities like a dance studio and sports hall, so people are looking forward to coming over.
‘It’s a new era for us.
‘We have never had access to people across the other side of Somers Town, but now we will be close to places like Wilmcote House where there are children and families who we hope to attract.’
Cllr Jones said: ‘I am delighted that a community centre, doctors, dentists and the Somers Town housing office will be inside this unique building.’
Cllr Luke Stubbs, deputy leader of the council, said that the landmark development would enable other benefits to come to light.
Cllr Stubbs, the council’s cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic redevelopment, said: ‘It’s a landmark building for this part of the city, and it also frees up other council office space for other uses.
‘It allows us to deliver services at a lower cost.’
Starting in September 2012, the project was led by BAM Construction on behalf of the council.
It was brought to life by 1,500 workers who spent a staggering 250,000 hours putting everything in place.
Plans including designs for how the hub would look were drawn up in 2009 – but early consultation with the community on what they wanted in the area to give it a boost began way back in the late 1990s.
The project was delivered through the council’s housing portfolio as its aim was to help meet the needs of people living in the area.
The workforce behind the building work was made up of employees working directly for BAM, as well as from 50 sub-contractors the company used.
Around 65 per cent of the team fired were people from the Portsmouth area.
Kevin Hudson, the council’s project manager, said: ‘It’s been a long journey for us.
‘I am absolutely delighted with the way it has been delivered.
‘It’s everything we set out to do.’
Its 19 bridge beams weigh 38 tonnes each and if you laid out all of the hub’s concrete foundations they would stretch for 5km.
The council will recoup the money it has splashed out on the scheme through lease agreements it has with the people moving in.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the Lib Dem group, said: ‘The problem we had was a whole series of facilities that were all coming to the end of their lives.
‘We could have patched them up or we could have tried to find a different solution.
‘It seemed to be an opportunity to provide something for that community to replace all of these facilities.
‘I hope it’s going to be hugely successful.’
Lib Dem councillor Les Stevens, who represents the area, said he can’t wait to have a look round.
‘It’s a great asset for Somers Town,’ he said.
‘I think it will be incredible.
‘There will be everything going on that residents need down there.’
June 2011 - Plans for the Somers Town community hub are welcomed by the people from Portsmouth as part of a consultation exercise.
September 2012 - Work begins on the building.
December 2012 - BAM Design is named as the architect behind the project, with BAM Construction doing the construction work on behalf of the city council.
April 2013 - The building is called Somers Town Central after people are asked their views. Other names that were considered included Somers Town Space and Somers Town People’s Centre.
Somers Town Central won after getting 192 votes.
July 2013 - A ceremony is held as building reaches its full 18m height.
Cllr Lynne Stagg, who was the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth at the time, poured cement into the base of a column and was given a commemorative trowel.
A short video is also released showing the construction.
August 2013 - It’s announced that all the work is set to be completed by the summer of 2014.
January 2014 - Communities secretary Eric Pickles is a given tour of premises.
May 2014 - Road closures put in place in centre of Portsmouth as final bits of work is done on the long-awaited project.
THE creation of the new community hub has been part of a five-year plan to improve living standards and pump more investment into the centre of Portsmouth.
Around 100 new council homes have been built in the area as part of the local authority’s bid to build more social housing in the city than at any time since the end of the Second World War.
New sites include Henrietta Place, a mix of four and three bedroom properties, and a new block of 10 homes with three bedrooms have been built at Invincible Terrace, on Winston Churchill Avenue.
At the beginning of the year, communities secretary Eric Pickles came to see some of the new developments and praised the work being done on the hub.
Families have also benefited from new properties at Ark Royal House and Wellington Street.
There’s also been a focus on improving the outlook for young people in Somers Town, with a new adventure playground, play area and two multi-use sport pitches having been created.
Residents are benefiting from a new community room in Tipton House, Warwick Crescent, Southsea, and a bigger storage space for scooters has been created for residents at Edgbaston House, in Sedgeley Close, Somers Town.