The independent London newspaper

Happy 40th birthday Hampstead Community Centre

Staff and supporters recall how centre survived threat of closure to hit four decade milestone

30 November, 2017 — By Steve Barnett

Chris Knight, Richard Weaver, Peter Ratzer, Linda Chung and Nancy Hill, with Dan, Hugo and Clive Brooks – the family of community centre founder Diane Brooks.

CAKE was enjoyed and the wine was flowed on Saturday evening as supporters of Hampstead Community Centre gathered to celebrate a day they feared they would never get to see.

Founders, trustees, staff and users from the building in Hampstead High Street looked at old pictures and shared stories as they took a stroll down memory lane to mark the community centre’s 40th anniversary.

The building started life as a coach house and then a garage before being renovated in 1976 by a local group that included Nancy Hill, Diane Brooks – who passed away two years ago – and then-Conservative councillor Peter Ratzer.

Jennifer Baker and Christine Howton

It is now a vital hub for the area, running a wide range of classes, services and support groups, including clubs and events for over-60s and a playcentre and playschemes for children.  But Richard Weaver, who has worked at the community centre and market for more than 30 years – almost 25 of those as manager – revealed how a dedicated team had to fight for its future.

“We’ve survived so many things over the past 40 years,” he said. “The biggest of which was being forced to close in 1993.  Our revenue grant was withdrawn, and we were closed down, and our staff made redundant.  But, thankfully, our trustees, including then-chair Penny Wild and treasurer Ben Sladen, battled to save the day.  They went to the council and applied to run the building as a self-funding centre, and we took over the lease.”

Linda Chung and Jean Archer

“In the end we were only closed for two weeks,” added Mr Weaver. “With the support of our trustees, myself and Toby Brown ran the centre on our own for 10 months and managed to rebuild a jam-packed programme.”

Among those who joined in Saturday’s celebrations were councillors Chris Knight, who is the chair of Hampstead Community Action Limited, which runs the community centre, Linda Chung and Phil Turner.  Sisters Jennifer Baker and Christine Howton, who run a family flower stall that has been on the site for more than 40 years, and stall-holder Jean Archer, 84, who has sold antiques at the market since the opening weekend back in 1977, also raised a glass to the centre’s continued future success.

It’s a future that looks a lot brighter after Hampstead Community Action Limited signed a 20-year lease last year.

“In 2008 we devised a 10-year refurbishment programme, which is almost complete,” said Mr Weaver.  “We’ve completely refurbished our top two floors, and thanks to Community Investment Funding and all of our supporters, we also have a new community kitchen and fully accessible toilets.”

He added: “I want to thank everyone for all their support over the last 40 years. We want to let everyone in the area know we’re here for them, and we’ll be staying here for many more years to come.”

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