Centerprise Community and Arts Centre in Dalston could be closed in eight days if council court action is successful.
At an emergency meeting, held last night (Thursday), to plan opposition to the legal action. Emmanuel Amevor, Chief Executive of the Centerprise Trust, said that he had received notice of the proceedings from Hackney Council’s legal team only last week. Court action is scheduled for next Friday at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court.
He described receiving the court order as like “a bolt from the blue.”
“If the community doesn’t rise up and do something about it, we will be out of here”, he said, calling on local people to contribute skills as well as much needed funds to the campaign.
The centre, founded in 1970, consists of a bookshop, café and workshop space. It has not had funding from the Council since 2008. Estimated legal fees to defend the action are in the region of £20,000.
The current dispute is over lease negotiations between Centerprise and the Council, which go back two decades, when the Council bought the property for the benefit of Centerprise in 1988.
The relationship between the two parties has been a consistently rocky one, and this is not the first time that the future of Centerprise has been in jeopardy.
At the meeting Amevor described unsuccessful attempts by the Council to auction the property in the late 90s, without informing Centerprise, as well as difficulties in establishing an “amiable” dialogue regarding the recent dispute.
Amervor also claimed the council has rejected past offers from Centerprise to buy the property outright.
According to a Council spokesperson Centerprise “had been paying £10 per week rent on a double shop-front property on a busy high street, which is not a rent level that could continue for any organization”
“Centerprise has failed to adequately engage with us over several years regarding a new lease. This has resulted in the Council initiating legal proceedings.”
“Hackney Council served a legal notice on Centerprise a year ago that would bring their current lease to an end this summer”
“The Council offered Centerprise a new lease last November and despite initial engagement, and several attempts by the Council, they did not come back to the Council regarding taking up a new lease.”
“We are committed to continuing to pursue legal action but will not be taking the case to court until next Friday. This will give the opportunity for further discussion between the Council and Centerprise.”
However, from the passionate responses of those who attended the meeting, it is unlikely that Centerprise will go quietly.
Milton Dillon, 53, has been a regular at Centerprise for forty years. Its closure would be a “devastating blow to a vibrant community resource”, he said.
Encouraging those at the meeting to take the protest directly to Jules Pipe himself, he exclaimed that they “have to shake the powerbase! They have to know what we feel!”
David Francis, 34, who often uses the café at Centerprise, was also unimpressed with the Council’s move.
“They’re going about it like they’re gangsters” he said.
The heated discussion at times resulted in Amevor having to ask the group “can we have one meeting please?” However, he seemed satisfied with the establishment of a working party to promote the Centerprise Defence Fund, which will begin with a fundraising event this Saturday held at the centre.
To take part in the campaign you can:
Follow them on Twitter twitter.com/centerpriseT
Sign the petition at: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/savecenterprise
Attend ‘Read to Save Centerprise’ featuring, Ngoma Silver, Cezanne, Akala and many more at Centerprise this Saturday from 5.30-9.30pm. Admission £5.
Additional reporting by Courtney Greatrex