‘We want to go home’, says Indian cultural group from Greenwich

By Joe Coughlan, Local Democracy Reporter

Nearly 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on Greenwich council to return a charity’s former day centre to the group, claiming 250 elderly people have been left feeling ‘isolated’.

The Indian Cultural Society (ICS) has asked the local authority to allow the charity to return to its office space in the Old Town Hall building in Calderwood Street.

The petition, signed by 958 people, stated that the ICS had been based in the Grade-II listed building since 1988.

The group was reportedly asked to vacate its offices in Woolwich in April 2019 for the council to carry out essential remedial works on the building. It claimed that equipment belonging to the charity had been placed into storage and could not be located by council officers.

The petition said: “ICS group’s volunteers’ work running the physical and mental well-being services must continue to keep people’s life out of stark loneliness, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“ICS were kept in the dark for about four years about the new business plans before the council wrote a letter on September 26, 2022 to not accommodate the ICS drop-in day centre in the room where they were based for over three decades.”

The topic was discussed at a Greenwich council meeting before Easter. Pritpal Sandhu, who started the petition, claimed the rent for the alternative spaces the council had since offered to the charity was too high.

Mr Sandhu said at the meeting: “I’m talking on behalf of Indian Cultural Society’s 250 vulnerable, marginalised, Asian elderly people who have been made homeless by the council and its officers since 2019. Indian Cultural Society looks after the mental and physical health of these vulnerable people.

“[They] are struggling with mental health, physical health, isolation. You have taken away Asian communities’ confidence and feelings. You have made the whole Asian community isolated and hit their improved mental health gains.”

Labour councillor Aidan Smith said in a written response to the petition that the charity’s occupation of the Old Town Hall space was seemingly made by an informal agreement and they did not pay rent.

He said works were done to repair the building’s rotten roof that had been damaged by a leak and the space used by the charity was closed while the complex repairs took place.

Cllr Smith added that the charity was offered several spaces by council officers following the building’s closure but the society felt the options were not acceptable.

The authority had asked the ICS to collect its stored items in May 2021 but received few responses and the items remain in storage.

He added that the group had no automatic right to return to the Old Town Hall but the council was willing to support the ICS in finding a new location.

Labour councillor Anthony Okereke, leader of the council, said at the meeting that he was thankful of the work the ICS had done for people in the borough.

He said he had met with Mr Sandhu at least three times to discuss options for a new secure space for the charity and the council would remain open minded to help the society find a venue.

Pictured top: The Old Town Hall building in Woolwich, based in Calderwood Street (Picture: Google Street View)

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