Brandon Estate residents frustrated that centre is still unusable after £180,000 revamp

By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter

A community hall refurbished for residents in the wake of three murders on an estate is still “not usable” after two years and £180,000 spent.

Southwark Council announced in 2018 that the Jack Hobbs Club would be revamped and put back in the hands of residents on the Brandon Estate in Camberwell.

The refurb was part of a council response to make improvements on the estate after three teenagers were murdered between 2018 and 2019.

But since its completion in February it has suffered leaks, leaving the toilets and some space unusable.

Numerous events scheduled for the hall were also cancelled, according to the Brandon Tenants and Residents Association.

The hall used to be a social and youth club run by residents over 20 years ago but in the 1990s the council took control of the space, letting it out to commercial tenants.

Chair of the Brandon TRA, Tom Lloyd, voiced his frustration with the situation at an overview and scrutiny meeting this week (June 2).

He said as a result of not having community space to rent out, the TRA is essentially “bankrupt” and cannot fund events for residents.

Councillor Evelyn Akoto, member for community safety and public health, updated the committee on the work so far and said improvements could be made.

She said an issues log has been sent to TRAs on a weekly basis, monthly meetings were held, as well as fortnightly calls with ward councillors.

“The programme of work, the major work on Jack Hobbs, was completed as anticipated and communicated to TRAs in February 2020.

“However, we suffered a leak from the second floor toilet which took several attempts, unfortunately, to resolve.

“This was not something we anticipated but have worked hard to resolve and we have kept Tom informed and in the loop about the progress made.

“The Jack Hobbs was open to community use and from January 2020 we had youth activities in the hall.

“We note through the correspondence that there are some concerns that these activities did not occur […] I assure you I attended some of these activities and they were in place,” she said.

She said one element that needs to be improved is communication around activities, and said plans in place to do that were halted because of the pandemic.

“I acknowledge there are elements we need to improve, but I must say that we have listened and we have been responsive to views and have worked hard to resolve these issues.

“Unfortunately the public health crisis […] forced us to leave most of this work and respond to the pandemic,” she said, adding that things would “definitely pick up” as the crisis eases.

Mr Lloyd said he was “saddened” by Cllr Akoto’s response “because it highlights the gulf in thinking” between residents and the council.

“We’ve got a new strong TRA committee and we’ve got a vision of how we can improve things on the Brandon but due to legacy issues we do not have a home to operate from and have not had for many years.

“This is especially sad as we’ve got a purpose built TRA hall, the Jack Hobbs Club, on our estate, which has been sitting largely empty for the last two years.

“It was once a community hub serving as an estate focal point and promoted social integration, which is an essential element in maintaining a successful community.

“And directly across from the Jack Hobbs Club is the Brandon youth club, another large purpose built space, sadly only used six hours per week.

“There’s a wealth of community space available on the Brandon, which is underused.

“For years we as a TRA have been limited by lack of space and resources that restricted us to a small space within the Jack Hobbs Club.

“We’ve got one room which seats 15 people and this is a TRA that is representing 665 properties with approximately 1,500 residents.

“Without adequate space we as a TRA cannot invest in infrastructure and without that we cannot organise or host events for our residents,” he said.

Mr Lloyd quoted the council’s residents involvement review policy, currently being implemented, which states that the council aims to strengthen communities by “maximising support, training, and funding available to TRAs”.

“That’s what you’re telling us you want to achieve.

“Sadly, we find ourselves in a situation where our revenue, which would traditionally go to our TRA through hall hire, is being diverted to Southwark and controlled by the hall manager of the communities team.

“We as a TRA with no home, no infrastructure, and very limited funding,” he said.

Mr Lloyd also named four dates he found the hall locked up when activities were scheduled.

Chair of the committee Ian Wingfield, said it was “imperative” that a meeting between residents and ward councillors be held soon.

“In regards to the Jack Hobbs club, it’s imperative that we get this core group and we get the communications  up and running as quickly as possible as they ought to have been.

“We need to have best use of that centre and we need to have our residents feeling like they’re been listened to and they’re being engaged with,” he said.

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