Property activist to submit planning proposal to restore neglected cultural centre
By Luchia Robinson
A local property activist has launched a planning proposal to revive Haringey’s West Indian Cultural Centre (WICC).
Haringey raised Stewart Wellington has the support of the centre’s trustees and community elders to redevelop the site in Clarendon Road, N8 into a modern facility called the African Caribbean Cultural Centre (ACCC) to reflect post-colonial emphasis.
Constructed in the 1980s, the WICC brought together island based Caribbean communities who had previously gone without a common space to meet.
The centre provided resources about the African diaspora and became a hub of activism welcoming guests including Nobel Prize winning poet and playwright Sir Derek Walcott, and American civil rights activist Al Sharpton.
The new ACCC will focus on providing community output programmes that will promote education about the Caribbean, and the African Caribbean journey and heritage.
Stewart’s planning proposal seeks to restore the building, which is in need of major repairs, in partnership with developer, Paul Simon Magic Homes, whilst also providing 30 homes – a mix of affordable and social rent housing. In addition, office units will ensure the viability and sustainability of the cultural centre.
However, prior to submitting the mixed tenure application, the issue of land ownership will need to be resolved with the council who own part of the land, (the majority of the site is owned by Stewart and his partners).
Stewart explains that more than 30 years of neglect by the council as landlord, has amounted to liability works costing it more than £250,000. He believes it would be in the council’s best interest to approve the community planning proposals rather than seek to buy out their interests.
In a recent article with the Guardian, a Haringey councillor admitted, “the shortcomings in the current building” but said the council plans to redevelopment the site itself. “We want to bring forward the overall scheme as quickly as possible while developing appropriate plans in partnership with community leaders and making best use of public assets to serve our local community.”
Stewart said: “There’s a social message which shouldn’t be missed by the council – the African Caribbean community wish to be autonomous in the delivery of this facility, as opposed to the arrangement that has gone on before. It’s important that we seem to be able to do things for ourselves.
“We don’t need to sit around and wait for the council. The development needs to be organic from the community. That was the spirit of the Windrush generation.”
Stewart aims to launch an ambitious programme focusing on nurturing creativity amongst young people and finding the next generation of Black creative talent.
Jessie Stevens, 93, led the Mothers’ Police Liaison Committee to protect young Black men from police brutality, she said: “It would mean everything to see the next generation inherit our work in the form of a new building.”
Hugh Francis, an active elder member of the African Caribbean Leadership Council, said: “There’s currently a disconnect between the current generation and what they know about the activism of the Windrush generation. This is because of the loss of a common space.
“Kids today don’t necessarily know the legacy of the work of people like Mrs Jessie Stevens. A new space would provide the bridge between the generations.”
Stewart explains what the prospect of having a new cultural centre will mean. He said: “What we’re proposing is to ensure that the African Caribbean Cultural Centre has a revenue stream which will benefit the local people. It’s important to me, and it’s important to the elders – they’re excited to have a vibrant and active facility for people within the borough to have the opportunity to enjoy and experience.”