By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
A social club for pensioners is set to be made homeless by Lewisham Council after more than 30 years.
Members of the Lewisham Triangle Social Club, mostly elderly Afro-Caribbean residents from the Windrush generation, will now have nowhere to go when Covid-19 restrictions ease.
Lewisham Triangle Neighbourhood Association’s venue in Wisteria Road is used as a community space, also hosting yoga lessons, choir rehearsals, first aid courses, diabetes awareness workshops, Nine nights, and afters for funerals and christenings.
Chair Exnol Harris said the club has been operating since 1985 out of the venue after a lease agreement with a Lewisham housing association.
The social club, a charity with more than 70 members, has been paying peppercorn rent for the property and is completely self-funded.
Mr Harris told the local democracy service: “We cater for senior citizens in the community, our members are retired, mainly Afro Caribbean in their 70s and 80s from the Windrush generation.
“This club is their source of socialising in the community. These are people in the community who come to us for support.”
The club received a letter from the council in June 2018 giving it notice to leave by July.
They said the council did start discussions and the following year said the club could stay – but only by paying £15,000 per year for a five-year lease.
It then said it would find another location for the social club.
But as soon as lockdown began last March the council went in and boarded up the venue, locking all the clubs and other people’s property inside.
A notice was posted to the door stating the lease had been terminated.
On top of this, squatters took over the building and some of the social club’s equipment is gone.
Mr Harris said the council has failed to find the social club anywhere new to go and that the organisation recently received another notice from the council saying they would have to take all their belongings by March 1.
He said: “We’ve been in this building for over 30 years, maintaining it and looking after it.
“I would have thought that the council would come, establish some form of relationship, say ‘you’ve been here operating a charity, supporting the community and taking care of people’.
“‘Now we need the building for whatever use, let us look at relocating you somewhere’. Not to treat us like we’re nobodies.
“They’re just passing us from one person to the next, it’s unfair.
“How do they expect us to find somewhere by March 1? They have no consideration.”
“We don’t want to work against the council, but we want to be treated fairly.”
A yoga teacher who also uses the venue launched a petition – that has nearly 600 signatures – to oppose the eviction.
Priscila Diniz, whose equipment is also locked in the building, said the venue is one of the “very few community spaces left” in the borough.
She said: “Year after year many of these precious spaces have been closed down for office or housing purposes.
“To name a few: Sedgehill Community Centre, Evelyn Community Centre, Peckham Community Centre and Sydenham Community Centre.
“Community spaces are important as they fulfil the space and time people need to develop new skills, learn something new, interact with friends, family and neighbours.
“Imagine how much trouble could be avoided if people, in particular young people could be engaging in a healthy space that offered many different activities such as music, dance, interactive games, martial arts, yoga, workshops, etc?”
She added that the Afro Caribbean community has been maintaining the space with their own resources.
“It has a tremendous potential. How can we turn this space into a vibrant local community space to attend and serve the local community instead of it turning into another house?” she said.
Cheryl McLeod, from campaign group Catford against Social Cleansing, slammed the eviction.
She said: “Once again Lewisham Council are going after services which are deemed as ‘culturally sensitive’.
“This centre has been occupied by the Windrush generation since 1985, fully self-funded, only for Lewisham to turn round and say you’re not welcome here anymore.
“It does feel like a hostile environment in this borough. CASC will be supporting this campaign just like the Calabash centre.
“This is an absolute travesty but not surprising from a council which consists of 43 white to 11 BAME councillors.
“There is definitely an issue in this borough, which I highlighted previously. Enough is definitely enough.”
A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “For several years we have repeatedly tried to engage with the Lewisham Triangle Neighbourhood Association but unfortunately this has been without success.
“The council has a responsibility to ensure that buildings it owns, on behalf of Lewisham residents, are being used by the community to their potential.
“The charity have not filed information or accounts at Companies House for several years, and they have a ‘non-status’ with the Charities Commission.
“We want to speak with the management committee as soon as possible, to understand how they are using the building and what activities are taking place inside it, and we would urge them to engage with our teams as soon as possible so we can find a positive way forward.”
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