L&Q, the Lewington Centre & community dis-empowerment

Back in 1999-2006 residents of the Silwood Estate, Rotherhithe, were repeatedly promised by Lewisham Council and London & Quadrant (L&Q) that when the estate was “regenerated” their existing and community managed community centre and other facilities would be replaced with a better, purpose built, community centre- later called the Lewington Centre.

The Lewington Centre was built under a section 106 planning gain agreement whereby a developer who is given very favourable terms ( in this case free land ) “compensates” the community. This was already a form of double dipping as Section 106 implies the community is getting something new- not replacing what they have lost.

About 4 years ago, the Lewington Centre opened. From the outset the building was clearly not fit for purpose. The “owner” Tower Homes ( the commercial wing of London & Quadrant ) had insisted on building “affordable” flats for “key workers” (e,g, nurses, teachers) on top of the centre. Which, even after expensive re-working of the acoustics and sound proofing, still make the hall unusable for evening social events. Many key workers work night shifts too. Tower Homes sweetened the greedy inclusion of 25 flats by promising tenants that £25.00 per flat per week would go towards funding the community activities.

This has not happened. Under the Section 106 agreement L&Q must submit publicly available full accounts for the centre every September- they have not done this and we have only been able to access them via a Freedom of Information request. Three years ago L&Q’s own accounts were showing the Lewington Centre was generating a carry forward profit of £120,000. A few years back at what turned out to be the last Community Forum convened by L&Q  Paul Nehra, L&Q’s “Community Investment Manager” promised that the money was ring fenced for investment into the centre.

When pushed on why this never happened L&Q claimed though they did collect the £25 p.w. from their hard pressed tenants they “forgot” to pass it on it to the community. Now the profit has “disappeared” completely.

Take a look at the attached files to compare the ‘delayed’ Income and Expenditure accounts. (2008-9 to 2011-12 is the most recent one we received after the Freedom of Information request, pretty different from one another.)

Accounts September 2009

Accounts 2008-9 to 2011-12

Christine Oettinger, chair of PACT (Parents and Children Together), says:

”L&Q needs to explain where the profit is coming from. Because in regards to the community centre alone, the profit from only the residential flats (which is 25 flats above this building) are meant to be used for the running and management of the centre. The building was put together only four years ago. How could it be that within a short period of time the financial model has failed? There is no translucency between how the money  is spent and where the money is going. The Community Centre is supposed to be self – sufficient The financial model explains that the income generated from the residential units is to fund the running of the community areas a 100%. Plus – Surplus. So: where has the money gone and how is the money being spent? And: where is the surplus? In some of the agreements that L&Q agreed to, when they accepted the [Section 106] funds, they were there for the community to provide the facilities, to provide a place for children, to provide a place for vulnerable families to go to. That’s not exactly what’s happening now.”

One of the services was a playgroup for parents to bring their under 5s. As opposed to  sitting at home this was the place to go take their kids and meet other people .

SILWplayground

However, the playgroup for under 5s has now closed, because suddenly Lewisham Council were going to stop funding the workers. The playgroup was there before the regeneration and it was used by people of the community. It is something that has always been funded by Lewisham Council. Residents feel it was just another thing being taken away from them.

Doreen Dower, Secretary of the local Tenants and Residents Association, who is already involved for a long time knows the reason for this:

‘When you have regeneration, the community dies. It was a 40 year old community with people coming and going, but it had still people in there from the beginning. But once that’s gone, you kind of just have to start again. And that is the biggest problem. Now we finally got this letter coming in that says: we need a management committee. But there are no volunteers. We’re still trying to get that off the ground with L&Q. They are supposed to be a non-profit organisation, but it doesn’t seem to work this way.’

This is an ongoing problem for the tenants association as well, trying to get people involved, they cannot afford to pay the rent being charged by L&Q for the room that was purpose built to accommodate them.

“There’s no nursery for the community, it’s all gone. All the things we were promised at the beginning, we would have it in one building. But then the goal post kept shifting and in the end, when I wanted to pull it down, they still hadn’t built it. They also pulled everything else down and then we had nothing.”

Allegedly in breach of their Section 106 agreement L&Q has now sub-let almost the entire centre to the Bede Education Trust, a subsidiary of Morley College.

“The college in the Community Centre also takes up a lot of time and a lot of space. It was built as a Community Centre, not as a college. Therefore some of the things the College are doing, doesn’t fit in. They closed off half of the hall.” adds Doreen.

Recently there have been meetings with residents, centre users and L&Q to discuss the problems but this has been pushed along by Southwark council and tenacious individuals like Christine Oettinger. L&Q say there is going to be a revamp on the finances, so the whole Lewington Centre is not necessarily going to close. There is still hope to get the Under5s Playgroup open again as well. But so far the L&Q response has been to drag its feet and, as ever, offer empty promises.

On the Silwood Estate local residents have lost a vital community life through the physical regeneration of the estate. A community that used to run and manage their own facilities has, in Spectacle’s opinion, been systematically dis-empowered.

We wonder how things are at other L&Q run community facilities. Anyone know?

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