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Muhammad Ali Centre ready for knockout punch

MEMORIES: Muhammad Ali at the opening of the centre in August 1983, with Councillor James Hunte (left)

A FRESH lease of life has been given to a much-loved centre named after and opened by boxing legend Muhammad Ali in August 1983.

Plans have been revealed by Kajans Women’s Enterprise under a community asset transfer partnership with Birmingham City Council to create a 300-place school for the teaching of Caribbean cuisine.

There are plans for a tailor-made healthy living centre, community space for the public and a base for the Birmingham based Academy of Gospel Music for the centre off Hockley flyover.

Hermin McIntosh, Kajans director, said: “Our aim is to help young people interested in a catering career to take that journey through training to setting up their own business. It will be the first such project of its kind in the country.”

There will also be an emphasis on community ownership with local people getting a chance to have their say.

In partnership with University College Birmingham and Birmingham Metropolitan College, the academy will offer a range of training courses – from apprenticeships to supporting experienced chefs looking for refresher courses.

AIMS: Kajans director Hermin McIntosh (left) with Kajans chair Derek Douglas and Councillor John Cotton

The £1.8m project hopes to start training the first group of 90 students from September 2013.

“This centre has a huge significance for the local community and we want it to be a unifying force for all communities in the city,” she said.

Muhammad Ali Centre in Hockley, Birmingham has stood the test of time after it fell into disrepair and became a boarded-up drug den and a target for arsonists. This deterioration upset the local people who saw its demise as a slur on their community.

The Muhammad Ali Centre has been revered by the local African Caribbean community, which rallied around three years ago to prevent a council move to demolish it.

The decision was met with outrage, the community sent out petitions and organised campaigns to save the neglected centre.

The idea for the Muhammad Ali Centre came from Birmingham politician James Hunte, who died aged 72 in Barbados earlier this month. He is said to have reduced Muhammad Ali to tears when he flew to America to outline the vision for a centre in the legendary boxer’s name.

A controversial figure, Hunte campaigned against the pyramid selling scams of the 70s and 80s that prompted a change in the law.

Hunte wanted the centre to be a way of compensating those in the community who had lost out.

Kajans, with support from the city council, is looking to secure funding through a range of regeneration funds and trusts.

The first of regular community meetings will be held on Tuesday July 3 at 7 pm at Kajans, the Albert Hall, Witton Road, Aston, to discuss progress.

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