Leys computer courses safe after council deal is agreed

The Oxford Times: Director Nick Tills at Leys Information Technology Zone Director Nick Tills at Leys Information Technology Zone

AFTER being evicted from their base and having to shut down for a month, a community computer service has been saved.

Leys Information Technology Zone (Litz) had to leave the area’s community centre at the end of April, after rent wrangles with Oxford City Council.

The group, which offers technology courses to hundreds of people, had to move from Blackbird Leys Community Centre’s computer hub after it was faced with a potential tripling of their overheads to pay for the room.

But now their future has been secured after finally being able to thrash out a deal with the local authority.

Litz director Nick Tills said: “We negotiated with the council to stay on. They reduced the rent massively for the hub, so now they’re charging us £7.50 for a three-hour session, which is great.

“They are re-equipping the room and putting in new PCs and they are going to hire the office to us separately.”

Litz formerly rented the room in Blackbird Leys Road for £1,2500 a year, but were told that the council wanted to allow other groups to use the room.

An hourly rent was proposed by the council, potentially trebling Litz’s overheads.

The group runs free computer courses for hundreds of people every year, and lets the community use computer and printing facilities on a drop-in basis.

Formerly known as the Blackbird Leys Information Technology Zone (Blitz), the group has since been re-established after former director John Clifford fell ill with cancer.

As reported in the Oxford Mail, the council sent an eviction notice to the group, giving them just three weeks to find a new home.

Now, after weeks of negotiating and the group having to leave the premises, they can return to the hub.

Blackbird Leys resident Mr Tills, 52, said that, while he is pleased with the outcome, the lengthy and sometimes fraught negotiations were unnecessary.

He said: “We are chuffed, but I still think we could have got to where we are much more easily and without any hassle if they just came to us.

“It could have been very different with a similar result and a lot less grief.”

As well as the new lease, Blackbird Leys Parish Council has given the group about £2,500 to pay for the next six months rent.

Mr Tills said: “They have given us a year’s worth of money in two portions, so it’s six months at a time, to see how it goes.”

He added that, while the rent is paid for, the group has no funding for other costs.

He said: “We still don’t have any money for tutoring fees or admin costs which is very tricky.

“We can’t keep doing it for free forever, we have to live. It’s a big concern.”

Chairman of the parish council Gordon Roper said: “It’s a facility on the estate that we want to keep for people to learn on the computer, young or old. It has been used for quite a few years and if we don’t pay it would be lost.

“We just want to see how it goes for the first six months. I’m sure everything will be hunky-dory and then we’ll pay the next six months.”

City council spokeswoman Eva Oliver said: “We are delighted to have reached a mutual agreement and are now in the process of refitting and updating the IT Hub.

“This facility will be available to Litz and any other users in the local community.”

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