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Estate campaigners 'jumping for joy' after housing association vows to hand back control of community halls

PUBLISHED: 09:01 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:44 01 August 2019

Nicolette Nixon, with children at Morningside Community Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock

Nicolette Nixon, with children at Morningside Community Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Campaigners are "jumping for joy" after their housing association landlord vowed to hand back control of community halls on their estates.

A meeting was held for people to have their say on the community hall. Picture: Ian RathboneA meeting was held for people to have their say on the community hall. Picture: Ian Rathbone

Sanctuary Housing Group has ended its arrangement for the Hackney Marsh Partnership (HMP) to manage three centres on the Gascoyne, Kingsmead and Morningside estates after seven years.

Nicolette Nixon, who has run youth clubs out of two of the halls for decades, told the Gazette: "Everyone is so pleased we are getting it back. We are jumping for joy."

HMP took over the management of the three halls as they were rebuilt by Sanctuary over the last decade.

Earlier this year the charity quit running Kingsmead and threatened to walk out of the other two, saying bosses were having to dig into reserves to keep the lights on because Sanctuary's £30,000 funding had dried up.

Residents have their say about the future of the community hall. Picture: Ian RathboneResidents have their say about the future of the community hall. Picture: Ian Rathbone

But that cash was always meant to be temporary, and people on the estates say the halls were badly run and almost impossible to book for private functions because no one answered the phones.

Nicolette is also chair of the Morningside Tenants and Residents Association, which used to run the hall "very successfully" before it was demolished in 2011, when people on the estate could use it free of charge.

"I remember a meeting in January 2012 when Sanctuary said: 'These are the new people who are running the hall'," said Nicolette. "We couldn't believe it. I said to them the other day: 'If you'd done this straight away instead of taking them off us we wouldn't be here'.

"HMP said they could make it self sufficient but they couldn't."

Morningside Community Centre. Picture: SHGMorningside Community Centre. Picture: SHG

Nicolette runs the club voluntarily and was awarded a Mayor's Civic Award for her efforts earlier this year.

She told the Gazette in May she was in desperate need of £8,000 to keep the vital club going, due to the £13,800 HMP was charging in rent - and even that was a reduced rate, owing to her agreeing to clean the hall.

Now, in a joint press release, Sanctuary's head of partnerships Alison Kenny said the partnership had "worked well" and was only ending because "the time is right to look at a new model for how the centres should be run".

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"The aim of any new model will be to give residents greater control of these valuable community assets," she said.

"We know how important these centres are to the communities around them, which is why we want to make sure local people can make the best possible use of them."

HMP chief exec Gary Burgess added: "In the current financial climate, where it is more difficult for voluntary sector organisations to raise funds, the model whereby community projects were delivered became financially unsustainable.

"The CEO and trustees of HMP therefore, reluctantly, made the decision to cease community development work to focus on our work with young people in the borough of Hackney.

"Whilst this decision has been primarily driven by lack of funding opportunities, HMP will continue to seek other funding opportunities around community work and aim to deliver community projects in the future."

A consultation will take place to "shape a new model" for the centres.

People on Gascoyne met Sanctuary chiefs at the £4million hall last month to demand more access to their centre, which they say they rarely get to use.

Alana Heaney, chair of the Gascoyne Residents' Association said: "The heart of any neighbourhood should be a community centre driven by local people to serve the local area.

"We should be able to celebrate our birthdays and other special occasions in this space, and use it to recognise and celebrate the vibrant diversity of our community."

Committee member Derek Smith added: "Since 1950 that site has been a focus for the Gascoyne community and indeed the surrounding area.

"The hall began as a residents' initiative, but this ended in 2014 when it was demolished. We need to recover some of that engagement, it worked perfectly well then and everyone benefited, so I am sure it will now."

Sanctuary is one of the country's largest social housing providers.

Last year it had reserves of £960million and paid its chief executive more than £365,000.

It has submitted a funding bid to help the estate residents' associations outline their cases for running the centres.

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