Lewisham community centre faces uncertain future amid lease retendering

BY ADRIAN ZORZUT
calum@slpmedia.co.uk

Residents are fighting to keep their only community centre running.

The Abbotshall Road Healthy Lifestyle Centre (AHLC), on the Corbett Estate in Catford is facing an uncertain future.

The centre, with football pitches, a community garden and a cafe, runs social and fitness classes for pensioners, mothers, children and young people in the area.

It is also home to Lewisham Tigers, who support more than 100 kids from Brockley, Catford and Dulwich to play football at weekends.

Catford resident and neighbourhood regeneration specialist Mekor Newman is spearheading efforts to keep the centre open and has set up a resident-run company, the AHLC Community Board, to manage operations.

The Corbett Residents’ Association, chaired by Mr Newman, stepped in to co-manage in July, along with Teachsport 2010 CIC who currently have the lease.

“Since then, we’ve been running the centre hand to mouth,” said Mr Newman.

Ross Walker of TeachSport 2010 CIC, which has run the centre since 2011, said: “After all the hard work so many people have put in at the centre over the years, we did not want to see it fail.

“That is why we have worked so hard and do not want to give up. But for the centre’s long-term sustainability, it must be run by the community.”

Its staff have stayed on board as volunteers. Many have not been paid since August – though they have been told they can get paid from rent from users of the centre eventually.

Centre manager Christine Bull is one of them.

She said: “When Lewisham council told us we’d have to close for three months, we turned around and said ‘we can’t do that, we’ve got a summer programme running and football due in September’.

“So, we decided to stay on.”

Christine splits her time between the AHLC and Grove Park Community Centre and desperately wants to see the hub stay in residents’ hands.

Ellenor Benton, a freelance wedding photographer and mother-of-two co-managing the centre’s stay and play group, said: “I wouldn’t be doing this without the AHLC.

“The Play&Stay group gives you a reason to get out of the house and socialise with other mothers and children.”

Lewisham Tigers coach and treasurer Collin Bryan said the fields were “essential” to the club which is the only one in the area.

The club is doubtful how many players would follow them if they were forced to find a new venue. AHLC Community Board will submit a bid to run the centre until a new lessee is found in March 2019.

In the meantime, Mr Newman has asked residents to donate to their online fundraiser, with funds going directly towards keeping the centre open.

He said: “There aren’t that many resources in our area and we don’t want to lose them.”

Lewisham council will be retendering the lease in April.

A Lewisham council spokesperson said: “We are in the process of granting a premises management agreement to Abbotshall Lifestyle, a local community organisation, which will mean the centre can continue to run in the short-term.

“In December we will begin the process of finding a suitable organisation to take over the lease of the centre on a long-term basis.”

To see the crowdfunding https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/healthy-lifestyle-centre-abbotshall-road-catford/backers#start.

* Our first version of this story mentioned TeachSport, a separate company, which is not involved in leasing the building to user groups. We are happy to correct this and apologise for its inclusion in the original

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