‘Amazing model’ of Big Society in action faces uncertain future

Feb 25 2011 - 9:11pm

Selby Trust Press Release

One of the largest community centres in the country hailed by a government minister as an “amazing model” of the Big Society in action is at risk of closure because of public spending cuts.

Haringey Council has said it has taken a decision “in principle” to terminate its funding to the Selby Centre in Tottenham, north London, with effect from 31 March 2011.  The council said it had concerns about the centre’s viability but added that a final decision on its £163,000 annual grant would not be made until a full audit of the Selby Trust, which runs the Selby Centre, had been completed

The Selby Centre provides facilities for more than 100 social enterprises as well community services including training facilities, a crèche, a supplementary school and sports and events spaces. It is the kind of community centre and social enterprise that should be at the heart of the government’s Big Society vision. Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem) said after a recent visit that the centre was “an amazing model” of Big Society in action.

Sona Mahtani, Selby Trust chief executive, said the centre was around 70% self-sufficient, generating income through affordable rents paid by organisations using its facilities. But it did depend on the council’s grant, which covers the overall rent. She said: “The circular grant is a paper exchange but without it, this so-called Big Society model at the Selby Centre that has taken 22 years to build up will be lost.”

She said the Trust generated a £52k surplus in 2009/10 and expected the same in 2010/11, but added that the long term viability of the centre depended on the council granting a long-term extension to their 25-year lease, which runs out in 11 years.

Ms Mahtani said: “Selby Trust has transformed a 1960s shell into a thriving hub that shows what a poor community can do for volunteering, self help, jobs and social enterprise. Selby employs locally and passions run high for the Centre that is well used by over 100 social enterprises, attracting 1500 people on a daily basis with over 300 staff employed.

“The Council is interested in investigating the Centre’s future sustainability. Yet the longer lease that would free the Trust up to attract social investment to make it fit for purpose and energy efficient is not forthcoming from the Council despite repeated requests since 2003. The Trust is confident that high energy costs can be reduced with energy efficiency investment. The Trust has continued to invest in improving this old building as much as possible.

“Anyone who takes the time to examine the situation closely will find widespread acknowledgement that the community users, charities, trustees and local staff have built up something very special indeed at this Community Hub over the last 22 years. The social capital is through the roof with 100% occupancy with capacity for further growth.

“Selby's motto of ‘Many cultures, one community’ befits Haringey, now classified as the poorest borough in London. Selby Trust needs to remain to help people at a grass roots level for the tough times ahead. But the Council audit of the Trust comes at a time when local authorities may feel greater pressure to generate income from selling off land to developers.”

For more information contact Sona Mahtani on 0208 885 5499 or email selbytrust@aol.com.


Notes to editors

  • The Selby Trust provides a range of community-led services, including facilities management, under the banner of "Many Cultures, One Community". It manages the Selby Centre - probably the second largest community centre in England and Wales.  www.selbytrust.co.uk
  • The Selby Centre is a £1m social enterprise operation based in Tottenham, Haringey and is a success story against the odds: 70% of its income is self generated from incubating and supporting social enterprises that hire out community facilities at the Selby Centre at affordable rates.
  • The Selby Centre was created as a community centre in 1985 from disused school premises. After the Council’s own failed attempt at running it, threatened closure was fought off by the local community.
  • The Selby Trust was born in 1992 to rescue the centre and safeguard local communities against Government cuts. The Council turned over the Centre to the Selby Trust on a 25 year lease in 1997 with full repairing obligations. Eleven short years remain, insufficient to attract serious capital investment.
  • The organisations at the Selby Centre read like a checklist of the government’s Big Society agenda: a group that provides citizenship and employability training for the local Somali community; social care providers for vulnerable people; training organisations aimed at helping ex-offenders, young people without work, the long-term unemployed; and job support agencies working with those who are hardest to reach. There is also a developing plan for a free school.
  • In 2010, Selby Trust was listed in RBS’s UK Top 100 Social Enterprise Index for growth – a much sought after prize in the current climate. 
  • In 2008, a £5m proposal from the Trust backed by architectural plans for a new centre for children and young people and incorporating an option for housing, was submitted for council backing but was refused
  • Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone visited the Selby Centre for Social Enterprise Day in November. She blogged about the centre here http://www.lynnefeatherstone.org/?s=selby
  • Locally, the Trust is not alone in efforts to obtain longer leases and ownership of community assets. A proposal to redevelop the neighbouring unused Bull Lane Playing Field by from Community Action Sport has also been refused by Haringey Council despite attracting £750k to the project from the London Marathon Trust.

A spokesman for Haringey Council said: “The financial position of the Selby Trust was reviewed by the council’s Voluntary Sector Committee, who decided in principle, following concerns about its viability, to terminate the trust’s funding with effect from 31 March 2011, subject to a further investigation of the trust’s financial position. That work by auditors is currently being undertaken.  No final decision has been taken. The council has a duty to safeguard public funds and often has to make informed, yet difficult, decisions with this in mind. The £163,000 funding covers the rent of the premises. The Selby Trust is the facilities managers of the Selby Centre.”

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