Campaigners hope to save a community centre and its food bank which helps more than 100 vulnerable people a week.
Divine Rescue has helped street sleepers, addicts, disabled people and poorly-off or isolated families by offering food at Thurlow Lodge, in Thurlow Road, for more than five years.
Officers told its volunteers they they would have to leave on Friday but the borough’s Labour leadership agreed it could have a two-week stay of execution.
The Divine Rescue foodbank’s volunteers claim council officers returned on Monday to say “We want you out of the building” – and that the same was said to them by management of the centre, a tenants and residents association (TRA) which is now folding.
Protestors have now decided to occupy the building and set up their own TRA to run the centre. They also issued a string of demands which they want to be met before they will agree to hand it over to council officers.
They will now stage a fun day on Saturday from 3pm to help publicise and fund their campaign.
Tanya Murat of Defend Council Housing said: “It is absolutely appalling and disgusting the council should have sent back officers to tell Divine Rescue they would need to leave.
“The council claimed the building needed to be empty to carry out a survey to ensure it was safe but that was done with people still here – so it was just an excuse to try and get the place ready for demolition.”
A new statement issued by the new TRA said: “Help us in the occupation and to work with us to keep this hall open. We invite all friendly journalists and supporters to come in and report what we are doing. We intend to provide a full programme of meetings and events as befitting a fully functioning TRA. We do not have any confidence in the council to take over and manage the hall for us. Their intention to close it is clear. Therefore, we will be happy to meet with the council, but we will not be allowing them entry to the building.”
Divine Rescue (DR) was told by the tenants’ association which runs the centre in November that it would be evicted, though Southwark council have tried to find another community facility or rooms for it to use.
But DR were warned by the lodge’s management committee last month that the door would be padlocked at the end of December. That was extended until Friday at 1pm, when supporters of the food bank occupied the building – and it was then that they were told about a two-week stay of execution while town hall chiefs try to find it a new home.
Cllr Fiona Colley, Cabinet Member for finance, modernisation and performance, said: “I just want to be clear that at no point has Southwark Council tried to evict the Divine Rescue charity from Thurlow Lodge. The charity’s relationship has been solely with the Management Committee who told them last summer that they would no longer be running the building as of this week and it would be reverting back to the council.
“On Thursday a council officer and one surveyor went to visit Thurlow Lodge, not to evict Divine Rescue, but to check the condition of the building in preparation for taking back control of the building and to start preparing to reuse the community space. A full report is expected this week.
“It will be some time before the building is demolished and the council wants to see Thurlow Lodge continuing in community use for as long as possible, which is why we plan to go out to tender for a new organisation to run the centre as soon as we have established its condition.
“The council has already confirmed with Divine Rescue that we have, in good faith, granted an extra two weeks grace period whilst we work with them to find a solution to this issue and I would strongly encourage the charity to work with us to find a sensible solution.”