Kentish Town’s front is all new cafes, bars and commercial success. Yet we all know how hard the impact of cuts and the cessation of funding have bitten community services.
Remarkably, Highgate Newtown Community Centre is celebrating an extraordinary input of new funding – partly from our own cash-strapped Camden Council. New Director Andrew Sanalitro showed me around the crumbling 1981 building, currently costing £28,000 pa to heat alone.
The anti-burglar wire mesh has gone: the reception sports decent furniture and new flooring, ceilings will soon be lowered to conserve heat, a new wet room will neighbour the vast gym hall and new kilns await a redesigned pottery. A redecorated canteen with clear glass windows overlooks a freshly planted sustainable food garden: 12 weeks of refurbishment have started.
“We have to be realistic about Council cuts in this day and age,” says Andrew. “But other funders actively want to give. They want to see the community winning.” On top of the Council grant, Sanalitro’s energy for fundraising has pulled in over £25,000 from sources of private investment and a few corporate grants.
“The bottom line is – are you doing it, or not? Pret A Manger saw that the HNCC was active and doing it. They funded the new canteen and kitchen equipment when they saw our 50p lunches and Food For Thought box” (where locals donate food tins to the chronically deprived). Then the QBE Insurance Group donated £15,000, an individual city banker gave thousands, and the Grange Hotel donated furniture.
“Investment encourages investment,” says Sanalitro. He is confident that after the public consultation later this summer Camden Council will fund a total rebuild of the old draughty HNCC – costing up to 10 million. “We are assessing what improvements are viable to ensure the centre is fit for purpose,” says Fiona McKeith, senior surveyor at the Council. She estimates work could begin in 2015. The whole building will then be demolished and rebuilt if the assessment is successful.
New charities and businesses are moving into the HNCC including MyTime, a social enterprise to encourage healthy diet and sport, Challenge.org, which works to mentor young people, and the Kingsley Organisation disability charity. There will be more rooms available for new businesses too. Kentishtowners are encouraged to come forward with their ideas and business proposals.
While other Kentish Town community initiatives are struggling, refurbishment is evident and dramatic plans with a real prospect of total rebuild funding have materialised for Highgate Newtown Community Centre. Sanalitro’s philosophy aims to change people’s expectation of what a community centre is and should be: “Give the community a decent environment and they will respect it.”
The HNCC plans to open seven days a week this summer holidays. It is keen for your involvement. You can get in touch here.
Words: Anna Turville