Viva 'unfairly criticised' over £325,000 grant

Viva founder Dan Schumann

Viva founder Cllr Dan Schumann felt criticism was unfair and everything about its work and about a £325,000 grant bid was transparent. - Credit: Archant/Viva

Viva founder and councillor Dan Schumann believes that since a recent Ely Standard article, the arts and community charity has been unfairly criticised and pitted against other local good causes over a £325,000 grant.  

The grant aims to create up to 50 jobs for Soham.  

Cllr Schumann, who is speaking as a Viva trustee and not on behalf of the council, says there are many positive aspects of being conditionally awarded the money by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA).  

He said these include the fact that it will help to ensure the long-term viability of Spencer Mill by diversifying its income streams and potential uses.  

Cllr Schumann told the Ely Standard: "Viva has always worked closely with its community and the organisations within it, and would never seek success to the detriment of others.  

“There are lots of grants available for all aspects of charitable activity from many sources.  

"Viva is blessed with very active volunteer directors/trustees and fundraisers, whom we are very grateful to and spend many hours making huge numbers of applications for free; we have also often supported others with applications. 

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“We are thrilled with this good news from CAPCA and, as always, will work hard to ensure the maximum benefit to the community.” 

He said the charity applied for the funding under CAPCA's market towns programme – which was open to all local groups and organisations and widely consulted upon.  

Also, that the trustees of Viva constantly needed to be forward looking and consider “every single way” to ensure the long-term sustainability of Spencer Mill so that it remains a thriving community asset for generations to come.  

He said: "We don't seek to make money, but to be sustainable in the long term" 

Funding from CAPCA would enable them to complete some of the work from the original thoughts for Spencer Mill and by adding a small extension could provide a business hub.  

This had become a particularly attractive proposition, he said, since the opening of Soham station.  

He added: "We have stuck our neck out at Viva and done something we believe to be transformational and positive for our community".  

"We have come through two years of hell because of the pandemic and opened a new theatre at what some see as the worst possible time." he said.  

Cllr Schumann felt criticism was unfair and everything about its work and about the application was transparent.  

Soham station

Viva believes re-opening of Soham station will help their proposed business unit at Spencer Mill - Credit: Archant

Viva would work to finalise the design for the business hub and submit a planning application.  

CAPCA 'signed off' on the conditional grant after East Cambridgeshire District Council successfully applied for it.  

It was comments made by his brother, councillor Joshua Schumann, deputy leader at East Cambs Council, at the CAPCA board meeting that enraged some residents.  

Cllr Josh Schumann: "Very close to Spencer Mill is a small cluster of industrial units, which have become in state of disrepair and become unviable."  

Viva fund raising charity shop in Soham

Viva fund raising charity shop in Soham - Credit: Viva

Viva would develop that area, he said, and it would be helped enormously by the improved connectivity the station offered.  

But one businessman wants to know "Did you engage with any of the existing businesses prior to putting in the grant application with regard to how they could benefit or assist in your proposal? 

"Could you also address the issue raised around the parking and access to the mill?  

Another resident felt that if the units had been empty for years "how about repairing them and giving them to new businesses or businesses that are looking for new big units to rent?" 

Cllr Josh Schumann has since emphasised that he did not "aim my comment s" at any specific businesses. 

Spencer Mill before renovation work began

Spencer Mill before renovation work began - Credit: CCC

A statement from Viva said that their "sole aim is to be a positive force within the community".  

And they added they "would never wish to denigrate or damage any other local organisations or businesses including (but not limited to) any businesses operating on the Ashley Industrial Estate.  

"Any comments to the contrary did not originate from Viva and do not represent our view." 
 

East Cambs Council leader Anna Bailey, responded to alleged disparity between funding for Viva and that for organisations such as the Ross Peers Sports Centre, Soham.  

She said a proposal was coming to full council this month to "make capital funds available to support leisure centres in the district".  
 

Hewdon Consulting Ltd of London drew up the appraisal report that recommended the Viva award. 

If successful, Viva is proposing to build a 3rd floor extension to create "flexible office space".  
 

This office space will be let "and will help to secure a daytime income stream as opposed to solely an evening one, for the charity."  

Cllr Josh Schumann

Cllr Josh Schumann (left) addressing the combined authority board meeting which approved a conditional £325,000 grant to Viva. - Credit: Archant

Viva has been told to submit a "suitable business case" showing the rationale for the project.  

An earlier version of this story failed to include a comment from Viva and we apologise for the concern this caused. We have now added comments from the charity to provide proper context