The Primrose Hill Community Association (PHCA) has been given an option by Camden Council to buy a 25-year lease on its home, the Community Centre at 29 Hopkinsons’ Place, for an upfront payment of £250,000.
In the 1970s a campaign by Primrose Hill residents to stop the demolition of the Piano Factory in Fitzroy Road resulted in Camden Council buying the building and converting it into flats. The Council offered to renovate the old machine shop on the factory site if a group of local volunteers emerged to organise community activities. In 1978 the PHCA was formed, and in 1980 it moved into the Centre.
Since then the Centre has been in daily use, providing space at all times of the day and evening, for educational, children’s and leisure activities, and for private hire. The PHCA is a registered charity. Its influence extends beyond the Centre, originally organising the Fireworks on the Hill, the Summer Fair (this year will be the 40th!), a Lunch Club in the Oldfield Estate, the On The Hill magazine, and the successful 2012 campaign to save the Library.
For most of the past 40 years Camden has given a grant to PHCA, recognising that its activities were of benefit to local residents and were managed more appropriately, and more cheaply, than by the Council. The age of austerity, and the dramatic reduction in funding of local government by central government have meant that not only has all financial support been withdrawn, but instead Camden is now imposing a rent for PHCA’s use of the Centre building. This year’s rent is £22,000 p.a., and this is anticipated to rise to over £40,000 p.a. following a revaluation in five years. The new charge of rent threatens to put PHCA into a loss-making position each year.
So, after several years of difficult negotiations, an offer has been made and the PHCA Management Committee has welcomed this opportunity to buy out a 25-year lease as a way of ensuring a future for the Community Centre. PHCA’s Honorary Treasurer, Colin St Johnston, who has been leading the negotiations with Camden for several years, has thanked Councillors Callaghan, Pietragnoli and Cotton, Council officers and others for the support so far. “We are particularly indebted to local solicitor Francis Katz, who has been acting for the PHCA in a pro bono capacity, and who has spent many hours redrafting clauses and negotiating a lease that the PHCA Trustees could accept.”
This just leaves the small matter of a large sum to find before the end of 2017. PHCA is now looking with imagination and ingenuity at ways to source the funding. Any residents with advice, experience or of course a spare quarter of a million are asked to contact Colin St Johnston on 020 7722 5932 or Dick Bird on 020 7722 1649.
The prize – of ensuring the continuation of the Centre, which has been the anchor of Primrose Hill’s neighbourly atmosphere for 40 years – is substantial, virtually determining the nature of what ‘community’ means in Primrose Hill in future years.