Local groups ‘priced out’ of Homerton community hall: What would Wally Foster say?

Elijah Anderson outside the Wally Foster Community Centre, Homerton. Picture: Polly Hancock

Elijah Anderson outside the Wally Foster Community Centre, Homerton. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Wally Foster would be “most annoyed” if he found out people in Homerton were being priced out of a community hall the late councillor built them 42 years ago, according to Hackney’s former mayor Kenrick Hanson.

Four months ago Mr Hanson raised his own concerns with the council about sky-rocketing charges for the hall in Homerton Road – but has yet to receive a reply.

Community groups like All Saints nursery have been forced out as a result, and the Get-Along-Gang not-for-profit pre-school group for low income families left last year when its annual charge shot up from about £10,000 to £60,000. Prices for events are also “ridiculous” and comparable to “hiring out the town hall” for the night rather than the small hall it is, according to Mr Hanson.

The organiser of the Legends of Kingsmead community event is worried he might not be able to raise the £2,500 needed to hire it within two weeks when it is set to go ahead.

Mr Hanson, a Justice of the Peace who was mayor of Hackney in the ’80s told the Gazette he is worried about the lack of transparency surrounding the hall’s new management, which changed in 2016. “The price has driven out people from the centre and it’s absolutely disgraceful,” he said. “If Wally Foster was here right now he would be most annoyed, because he built that centre for a specific purpose. King’s Park ward didn’t have anything, and he built the centre to provide facilities so that local people would have a place to go.”

Four months ago Cllr Sharon Patrick promised Mr Hanson a response to his complaint, but he has still not heard back from her, although he has been told the council is looking into the matter.

Last year when the Get-Along-Gang was priced out, its chair Evette Dawson was also told the council was investigating. This week a spokesperson told the Gazette it is “aware of concerns about the manner in which the Wally Foster Centre is being managed”.

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“It might have been taken over by new management but it’s also the council’s responsibility to make sure it’s being used properly and for the community,” said Mr Hanson.

Some people are concerned it is being run more like a night club, and the council has received complaints about several events that have reportedly gone on longer than a special 5am licence granted on eight occasions.

A spokesperson for the council said: “We have been working closely with the trust to address these concerns, and in particular to establish whether they are meeting the criteria that we expect all eligible voluntary and community sector organisations to meet, including robust governance arrangements, and clear evidence that the property is being used primarily by Hackney residents. This work is ongoing.”

A spokesperson for the Wally Foster Community Centre Association Ltd (WFC) charity said the pricing was “competitive”. “Taking our operation costs into consideration is the key to good governance,” they said.

“Our bookings are from local residents that are impressed with the improvements and level of service provided.”

The Gazette has been told that a free Christmas party for the community will be held on December 8.