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Locals join fight to save centre from closure

CENTRE: Emmanuel Amevor

THE FIGHT to save a 41-year-old black community centre in east London has intensified, with local residents up in arms over plans by the council to close the centre.

Managers of the Centerprise Community and Arts Centre in Hackney, east London, have been at loggerheads with Hackney Council for months over plans to close the centre.

Local residents have now joined forces with the centre’s managers to try to save it.

Classes

The centre runs one of the oldest black bookstores in east London, as well as a restaurant, and offers Saturday classes in English, maths and science to local children aged five to 18.

“I am here to support the centre all the way,” one Hackney resident, who identified himself as Nubian, told The Voice at a public meeting on November 4. “I use the space to put on events that are weekly. The books are valuable as some of them are not mainstream. The closure of the centre would be a disadvantage to the community.”

Emmanuel Amevor, Centerprise’s chief executive, told The Voice that they have now been told by the council to return the keys to the Kingsland High Street building that houses the centre.

Centerprise’s leaders are calling for more members of the public to campaign to save the centre.

Amevor told The Voice: “Your support is needed to help raise awareness.”
Hackney Council had planned to take Centerprise to court last Friday (November 11), to reclaim the building, alleging they were owed money, but the council decided to postpone the court action.

Amervor has rejected the council’s claims, stating they do not owe them money. Amevor told The Voice: “We got this building under the Inner City Partnership Fund programme in 1983/84.

“The building was bought for us after successfully winning a competitive application. Instead of giving us a cheque they bought the building for us.”
Amevor added: “We used to pay what was known as the ‘peppercorn’ rent, which was £10 per week, but I believe this building is ours, so a penny paid to them is a penny too much…

Document

“According to Hackney Council they sent us a document, Section 25, last November, but we did not receive it. The document was supposed to state a change of rent, but because we did not respond we were told we had lost our right of protected tenancy. Now they want to move from peppercorn rent to market rent, which would be £37,000 per year.”

A Hackney Council spokesperson told The Voice: "Centerprise had been paying £10 per week rent on a double shop-front property on a busy high street, which is not a rent level that could continue for any organisation. When the Council offered Centerprise a new lease last November, it was offered at market rate of £37,000 because, despite having the opportunity to apply for reduced rent under the Council's voluntary and community sector organisations lettings policy, Centerprise did not do so.

“Despite attempts from the Council, Centerprise failed to adequately engage with us over a new lease within appropriate timescales. If Centerprise believes it qualifies for reduced rent as a voluntary or community organisation, they are welcome to apply to see whether they meet the relevant criteria."

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