Gazette letters: Youth clubs should not be paying rent

Civic Award winner Nicolette Nixon, with children at Morningside Community Centre. Picture: POLLY HA

Civic Award winner Nicolette Nixon, with children at Morningside Community Centre. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Archant

Thank you for revealing that Gascoyne and Morningside Youth clubs are going to run out of money shortly (Hackney Civic Awards winner says her youth club is in desperate need of funding), writes Cllr Ian Rathbone, Well Street Traders Alliance.

I find it of great concern that the Hackney Marsh Partnership (HMP), Sanctuary Housing's leaaseholder, is charging rent at £18,349.95 a year for the use of two halls to a local youth club that is one of the more successful in Hackney at engaging young people and bringing positive change to their lives.

This is compounded by the fact that a person who has just received a civic award for her pioneering and innovative work with the community is forced to clean the toilets to reduce the rent.

I think there has been a reluctance on the youth club's part to protest in the past, in case they are thrown out of the premises. Ward councillors have also made representations about the situation.

As a local resident and markets champion, I have known about the youth club and its work for some years, particularly the pioneering work with young people learning to run their own market stall, marketing and production company, and receiving national recognition last year.

This is one of the most deprived areas in the UK. It has had stabbings and fatalities in the last year. Things could get worse during this summer. All of us are looking around to see how we can help and support our young people who are going through a terrible crisis.

So really, what is HMP thinking about by charging such a huge sum of money for rent? Where is its sense of responsibility towards the tenants and young people? Where is its support for this club?

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Both HMP and Sanctuary Housing are there to benefit the community and help and encourage social cohesion. Let's see them do that.

I would like to propose that from now on, the youth club's rent is dealt with in some way that means they don't have the worry of paying it when there is no money - which means more resources can go towards much-needed youth workers and stability to the club, and the youth leaders can instead worry about the well-being and development of the young people locally.

Approached for a response to this letter, the trustees of Hackney Marsh Partnership said: "We too are a small local charity that has been running support services in some of the most deprived communities in Hackney - delivering everything from training/employment support for struggling households to a range of services to keep our young people safe and away from trouble.

"In our 23-year history there has never been a more challenging time to try to keep a charity afloat. We have seen a dramatic reduction in our income over the last five years and have been forced to take a number of difficult decisions, including numerous redundancies, slashing our community development work and closing our free legal advice services.

"Since 2012, HMP has managed three community centres (Kingsmead, Gascoyne and Morningside) on behalf of Sanctuary Housing - one of the country's largest social housing providers, that is sitting on over £960m in reserves and paid its chief executive over £365,000 in 2018.

"As part of this arrangement, we are responsible for almost the entire operating costs and have a variety of restrictive conditions imposed on the charity around delivery of specific community activities. At the outset, Sanctuary Housing funded the arrangement for £30,000 per year, but this has progressively been cut year on year to zero towards the running costs of the halls - while the stipulations have not.

"This has left us dependant on generating income from the community spaces and has made the situation all but impossible. For the last two years, the charity has made significant losses that have seen our reserves more than halve - almost all of which can be attributed to running these community assets.

"We have had numerous meetings with Sanctuary about this and various other concerns - as well as formally writing to the chair and chief executive - but to no avail.

"Consequently, the voluntary trustees made the decision in February 2019 to give Sanctuary Housing immediate notice on the Kingsmead Hall and that without specific changes and assurances would no longer be in a position to operate the other two spaces. At the time of writing, we still await their response.

"We wholeheartedly empathise with the youth club. Until August 2016, we maintained its rent at £9,370 per annum. For the reasons outlined above, we spent many months carefully negotiating a new rent that, while still much discounted, was fair for both organisations and reflected the rates charged by other local community facilities for similar charitable activities.

"Given these circumstances, it is extremely disappointing to read Cllr Rathbone's letter that appears to be an attempt to score points from the plight of two struggling local charities - especially given that he has been fully informed of the situation. We would have hoped that his belated intervention would have been better directed toward Sanctuary Housing rather than a fellow charity also just about surviving."

Daren Nowlan, operations director at Sanctuary Housing, said: "We have a huge amount of respect and admiration for the work Nicolette does at the Gascoyne and Morningside Youth Clubs and understand how important they are to the local community. We have offered them significant support over the years, including providing an independent advisor to help secure a five-year, National Lottery Reaching Communities grant of £500,000 which recently finished.

"It's important to understand that Sanctuary Housing does not charge the rent for the community centres. The rent is paid to Hackney Marsh Partnership, which runs these premises.

"We offer support to organisations like these youth clubs to apply for grants and we will continue to do that as we know they are vital local resources. We also continually review the use of community facilities to ensure our residents and their families are able to make the best possible use of them."