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Loss of Naramata Centre a blow

For nearly 70 years, the Centre at Naramata has played a big role in the small Okanagan community, so many were sorry to hear of its closure this week.

Residents, business owners and those who worked to keep it afloat, say its loss will have a lasting impact.

"I think it is an unfortunate situation for the community, the businesses and the centre itself," said Bob Moss, who works at the Naramata Store. "It was noticed last summer that business was down, with 5,000 fewer people coming over a three-month period, and there will likely be a continuation of that."

The Naramata Centre Society was created in 1947 to provide courses relevant to the role of Christians in the church and community, and to serve as a centre for the study of issues and problems in the church, community and society at large.

While its roots are in the United Church of Canada, its branches are said to reach beyond barriers of culture or religion. For decades, thousands of families flocked to the location to participate in a variety of courses. But in recent years, the centre has struggled financially.

In addition, there was a strike by CUPE Local 608 workers, which started last May. That, and other issues, led to all its programs being cancelled last summer. The situation culminated this week with the board of directors announcing Wednesday the centre would cease operations and close immediately.

Although a fundraising campaign recently raised $500,000, after a review it was determined the centre could not continue to operate on a long-term basis.

While the ongoing strike played a role, it is only a symptom of the centre's bigger issues, according to the board.

"One would be the fact we are entering our 68th year of operation and some of the infrastructure is aged and needs replacing," said board member Gerry Anderson. "That requires a huge amount of capital. Since I've been on the board, we have really focused on finding a different way to operate, and we couldn't in the end find that."

At this point, those who contributed to the campaign will be contacted to ascertain if they would still like to receive a receipt for income tax purposes or have their donation refunded.

The society that operates the non-profit is not ceasing to operate at this time. It has to have an annual general meeting before the end of June. At that meeting, it will likely consider what the next steps will be – selling the land, leasing it or partnerships.

"We really don't know at this point," said Anderson.

The closure will result in all centre employees, including CUPE members, being terminated. On Thursday, CUPE announced it will seek renewed discussions with church representatives.

“We have had 30 employees on strike and on a picket line at the United Church’s Naramata Centre for over eight months. This dispute has always been about fair treatment of loyal employees, and we will seek fair treatment as part of any closure of operations and discussions on the future of the property,” said CUPE national servicing rep Tom O’Leary.

Meanwhile, others in the community are still struggling to come to terms.

"It has had an impact on all the businesses here, from the pub to stores," said a resident named Kathleen. "In the summer, it probably brings in 6,000 people, so it's just very sad for the community."

"It's a lose, lose situation," said Moss. "First we lost the packinghouse, and now the centre – and we don't have much to lose."

Anderson admits to feeling crushed.

"I fought hard to make it sustainable and was probably the last to give in. It's just not there," he said.

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