08 February 2011

Tory Hammersmith puts two fingers up to the Big Society as it sells off community buildings

At a heated Council meeting last night (see excellent report by Guy Debord's Cat here), Tory H&F councillors voted to sell off Palingswick House, the Irish Cultural Centre, Sands End Community Centre, Fulham Town Hall, the Distillery Lane Children's Centre, the Shepherd's Bush Village Hall, the Askham Family Centre and the Greswell Centre.
This is a poke in the eye not just to local people but to the Tories’ own Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, who only yesterday said “We’re going to be saying to councils, ‘just make damn sure that you take your costs down before you think about cutting the funding for voluntary organisations’.”
Tory H&F council dresses up brutal cuts as efficiency savings while actually wasting public money. As Labour leader Steve Cowan points out here, they burnt up a quarter of a million pounds leaving the town hall lights on at night and they're throwing away £35 million on new and unwanted town hall offices. And what is efficient about selling off all these buildings at a time of such low property prices?
Here is what Hammersmith and Fulham residents will be losing.
Palingswick House - Home to 21 voluntary sector organisations and used for charitable purposes since it was left to the borough by a wealthy family in the 1880s. Toby Young's free school famously wants to buy the building and it will be interesting to see how the terms the council offers them – market valuation, timing of sale, inviting alternative bids, etc – compare with those offered to the community groups trying to buy the Irish Centre and the Sands End Community Centre. 
The Irish Cultural Centre - Offers educational, welfare and cultural services to the Irish community and is an affordable venue for other local groups. The council has reneged on its agreement to extend the centre’s lease to 2017 and wants to sell it off next April instead. The centre is asking for more time to raise the £2.3m needed. Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has said closing the centre “would be a devastation for Irish culture in Britain”.
Sands End Community Centre - Houses a library, a gym with a climbing wall, studios for dance, exercise, martial arts and rehabilitation work, a roomy creche and a vast ceramics and earthenware workshop. The Hammersmith and Fulham Chronicle says, “Splitting up the Sands End Community Centre and moving the facilities to separate sites will reduce opportunities for neighbourly interaction and add to the deadening feeling among many residents that they are being pushed out in favour of property developers.”
58 Bulwar Street, aka Shepherd's Bush Village Hall - In constant use by local groups for sports, faith, health, dancing and leisure activities. Houses the Shepherds Bush Community Association, the Shepherds Bush Families Project and the West & North West London Vietnamese Association, which provides training, work advice and information, ESOL and IT classes and support to elderly Vietnamese people.
Fulham Town Hall - Used for weddings, receptions, presentations, seminars and conferences, sales and auctions, fashion shows, dinner/dances and examinations,
Distillery Lane Children's Centre
Askham Family Centre - Supports families who need sensitive support, such as supervised contact for children in care. Services include overnight respite for families with severely disabled children and assessments for families with serious behavioural problems.
Greswell Centre - Home of Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability, an organisation run for disabled people by disabled people that offers high quality services and campaigns to remove artificial barriers to opportunity, choice and independence for disabled people.

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