'Amazing model' of Big Society at risk of closure over spending cuts

Mar 8 2011 - 6:10pm

Published in:
Published by Ross Macmillan for 24dash.com
Wednesday 23rd February 2011 - 10:43am

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) (pictured) 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.”

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