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Our community centre is a huge asset, let’s not see it go for spurious gain

01 March, 2018

• HOORAH, if the ill thought-out proposal for the Highgate Newtown Community Centre and Fresh Youth Academy site is to be shelved.

It would have been offensive to put such a cramped overdevelopment next to one of Camden’s star developments (by architect Neave Brown, at the bottom of Winscombe Street).

Camden’s proposal was an outrageous piece of poor design destined to increase noise and encourage conflicts between community centre users and residents.

This site, familiarly known as Highgate Community Centre, includes tank garages once used by the Territorial Army (now a fantastic large gymnasium), buildings that have housed training workshops for prisoners from Pentonville, and the former 1892 People’s Gospel Mission Hall.

It is now part of the Fresh Youth Academy, recently refurbished by Camden. The original buildings on the community centre site were infant and primary schools, built in the early 1870s.

Go and look at the buildings. The jewel in the crown, for me, is the old chapel behind the Fresh Youth Academy.

The mission hall has a small stage and lovely wood block flooring. It is equipped for showing films, but best of all are its atmosphere and acoustics. Where was this little gem in the great plan?

It was being converted into two town houses! And the magnificent gymnasium was to be demolished for private development. The main community centre buildings were to be demolished as well.

Use of the Highgate Newtown Community Centre has been varied over the years but always facilitating community development and cohesion.

Let us not gallop into solutions that are inadequate. Let’s hold on to the importance of community and not destroy what we have for the sake of spurious gain.

The centre is a huge asset. Camden could sell it to a community trust for less than the market value and a trust could raise money against its value.

But please, whatever happens, keep the little chapel and the gym. And surely the Fresh Youth Academy must continue.

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