A community centre in Canary Wharf is planned for demolition by the Tower Hamlets council after its lease expires in June 2018. The site will be redeveloped into a new housing development.
The Docklands Community Organisation Cultural and Education, also known as the “DCO”, provides recreational facilities and activities to the Millwall area and has been renting the space from the borough council for four-and-a-half years, since June of 2013.
The community has launched a petition, asking the council to declare the site an Asset of Community Value, which would give the community a say in its ownership and time to try to buy the property itself. So far they have collected around 1,500 signatures.
At a community consultation with representatives of the council on December 5, around 300 local residents attended the meeting to express overwhelming dismay at the prospect of the centre closing. According to a spokesperson from the DCO, “99.9% objected to the mayor’s proposed housing plan”.
More than 1,000 community members use the centre weekly. The organisation runs, among other programmes, Arabic classes, health and social care courses, NVQ courses, weekly surgery sessions for the ward’s councillor, a book group, a senior group, a youth club, and holiday events during school breaks. The building is also the site of daily and weekly Muslim prayer services attended by up to 500 people.
The spokesperson from the DCO told East London Lines that the Millwall area is rallying behind the centre, in opposition to the council’s plans, though it seems to be to no avail: “The council have basically showed public contempt to the DCO committee they were negotiating with and complete disregard to the locals and service users.”
In a letter sent to the area’s residents obtained by ELL, the Tower Hamlets Council cited an increase in population and “an urgent need to provide housing for local residents and to build and develop settled communities”.
According to the council, 50 per cent of the new units will be let at social housing rates, and the other 50 per cent will be let at the Tower Hamlets living rents.
But community members and representatives from the DCO say that the council is disregarding the amount of labour and capital that the community put into the building to make it an attractive asset for the council to redevelop. Originally, the building was a group of forgotten, temporary buildings but the DCO says the community invested £70,000 to make it into the thriving community hub that it is today.
The DCO became a registered charity in February 2017.
The DCO and its patrons are continuing to fight to save one of their community’s centrepieces. “The community [are] very dismayed, to put it mildly,” the spokesperson said of the threat to the centre.