The council is inviting Wapping residents to attend a consultation on Saturday 27th January between 1pm and 6pm at Raines House.
About Raine’s House. To be precise about a proposal to use Raine’s House as a community centre.
Bit late for an invite, innit? Three days notice? But hey, at least we know.
You can (just about) see the proposed new plans here Raines House consultation flyer (PDF).
Raine’s House community centre
The subject of the consultation – and we use the term consultation very loosely – is the conversion of Raine’s House into what the council calls a community Hub but what the rest of the world calls a community centre.
The H word is now banned
So that is what we are going to call it. A community centre. Indeed we despise the use of ‘hub’ word so much that we are banning its use from LW.
Wapping needs a community centre
Wapping has needed a proper community centre for years. There are various buildings which various people and various groups use for various things but there is no single building for everyone which every resident knows as ‘the community centre.’
Anyone who has ever tried to organised a public meeting in Wapping will soon run up against the fundamental problem that there is a complete lack of a suitable public space in Wapping. Provision of a proper community centre would fix this problem.
However from what we know of Wapping the proposed solution of upgrading Raine’s House is not the best way to solve the issue and ignores the fact that there is another council building near to Raine’s House which is almost unused. And giving residents little notice of a consultation does not help at all.
Raine’s House is a fantastic Grade 1 listed building and is literally part of the fabric of historic Wapping. It was built in 1719 and founded as a charity school by Henry Raine. It sits set back from Wapping Lane behind the green south of 21 Wapping Lane. Although Raine’s House has a long history of being used by the Wapping community it does not have a high profile as a community centre and this is partially due to its location. And although having listed status has some benefits it is problematic in terms of upgrading the building. There is currently no reception area and people walking past would be unaware of its purpose. According to the council blurb their proposals will mean that “the building will provide large multi-purpose spaces, smaller meeting rooms and a range of other facilities including accessible toilets, a lift, storage for regular users and free Wi-Fi.”
The ground floor of Raine’s House has a licensed bar for use at social functions. Unfortunately the presence of this bar deters a significant number of residents of the Muslim faith from using (or even entering) the building as it is contrary to their religious beliefs. It is our understanding that the bar will be permanently removed and so remove this barrier. Problem being that in satisfying the needs of one part of the community the lack of a bar reduces the appeal of other parts of the community who may want to organise a social event at Raine’s House. Fact is that a large number of people in Wapping like to have an alcoholic drink (or two) at a social gathering. Their needs should also be met.
30 years service
For the last 30 years or so a small group of Wapping residents have provided community services from Raine’s House but it seems this is coming to an end. This is an issue in itself which we understand is rather more complex than it might at first seem.
Pollyanna Theatre School
Upstairs at Raine’s House is the well known Pollyanna Theatre School and it is unclear what impact the new plans will have on it but the new floor layout may adversely impact Pollyanna’s.
One local mother LW spoke to said “Pollyanna has provided a theatre school for 28 years in Wapping and for some children it their one out of school activity. It’s imperative that Pollyanna stays as a theatre school but it won’t be able to should they make small rooms [which the plans indicate would happen]. It’s such a shame that if the council gets their way they will ruin the one community building we have left.”
Charges for use of council buildings
Hard reality is that in line with the council’s need to get money from somewhere after Lutfur and his cronies ransacked the borough’s coffers between 2010 and 2014 charges are being introduced for use of council owned buildings – including community centres – across the borough.
Here are the proposed costs for Raine’s House:
Raines House booking rates
|Category||Main room||Ante room||Room 1||Room 2|
|LBTH Registered Charity rate||£25/hr||£15/hr||£15/hr||£15/hr|
|Registered Charity rate||£30/hr||£20/hr||£20/hr||£20/hr|
If you know of any small local charity that can afford **** per hour to hire space and services in a building which they have already paid for through central and local taxation let us know ‘cos we don’t. The financial pressure the council is under cannot be underestimated but the reality is that charging residents to use their own community centre will deter them from using it.
Many will be sickened that Lutfur Rahman’s supporters – many of them standing for election in May – rush to criticise the current administration for trying to recover from the situation the previous corrupt administration created. This might be worth remembering at the ballot box.
The wrong question
In essence the question that Saturday’s consultation at Raine’s House asks of residents is this: “The council has decided that the best way to provide Wapping with a proper community centre is to upgrade Raine’s House, here are our plans, what do you think?” It can be argued that the wrong question has been asked and the proposed answer is wrong for Wapping.
Joined up thinking required
A better question for the council to ask of residents might be: “How can we better meet the need for a community centre in Wapping using any of the council buildings in the area?” This is what is known as an open question as opposed to the closed question the Raine’s House consultation poses. Many residents consider that there are better options when an open question is asked than just refurbishing Raine’s House. Who knows, other options might be cheaper. Or simpler. Or show joined up thinking by the council.
Children’s Centre Chandlers Street
The fact is that just over the road from Raine’s House there is another council owned building which is (a) nice and shiny and as good as new and (b) virtually unused – the Children’s Centre in Chandler Street.
The building consists of three floors including a purpose built ground floor reception area and office.
Since the recent cuts to council Children’s Services only the ground floor of Chandler Street is now used. Here the Step By Step nursery provides child care at commercial rates and of course free Early Years Entitlement.
But that’s it. Nothing else.
The rest of the building is empty apart from some use of the second floor by local Wapping charity Community Solutions and to a lesser extent by other community groups. (Full disclosure: LW occasionally works with Community Solutions and is a personal friend of Christine Trumper who runs the charity. However LW does not have any financial interest in either Community Solutions or its operations.) Recently the Community Solutions team has also started to staff the reception area at Chandler Street (for free!) simply because they see a community need there which, since the council cuts, is not being fulfilled. The reception area is a natural contact point which is both accessible and visible from the street. It should be used by the Wapping community – it is a waste that it is not.
Not open all hours
During the week the Chandlers Street building is only partially used and is closed out of hours and at weekends. LW understands that recent attempts by Community Solutions to facilitate proper terms and opening out of hours has been frustrated by council red tape. One local mother wanted to use some of the space on the second floor but because of council prevarication she has been forced to run new community services from the basement of Pizza Express. What?
So it seems reasonable to ask why scarce council money is being spent on a refurb of Raine’s House when another council building sits empty 100 yards away?
Chandler Street even has a lift! And large multi-purpose spaces and accessible toilets. Sound familiar? Yep, these are the facilities it is proposed to install in Raine’s House.
Should Raine’s House be used as a community centre? Yes. Should Chandler Street be used as a community centre? Yes. Is there a financial benefit to using both buildings? Yes. Chandler Street will not be closed because the ground floor nursery provides revenue for the council. But the reception area and first and second floors lie abandoned apart from occasional use by some local Wapping residents.
The failure of the council to understand the needs of Wapping is lamentable. The council’s failure to properly consult (also known as talking to) Wapping residents is inexcusable. LW understands that our local councillors had no more notice of this consultation event than residents.
Wapping Squirrels eat more leaflets?
By pure chance we did ask the council for clarification about numerous issues relating to a Wapping community centre before we heard about the consultation but have not received a reply at the time of publication. We also asked further questions once we knew of the consultation on Saturday, mainly around the details of leaflet distribution. Maybe the Wapping Squirrels ate the leaflets?
Whatever your opinion of the plans for Raine’s House or the unforgivably short notice of the ‘consultation’ we would still urge you to attend on Saturday 27th January at 1pm to 6pm at Raines House.
If you have any questions about the plans for Raine’s House before (or after) Saturday please contact Nazim Rahman in the council’s Capital Delivery Team on 0207 364 1143 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download more information about the proposal here Raines House consultation flyer (PDF).
And please remember that the local and mayoral elections are in May and those who want your vote should be asked for something in return. A proper community centre for Wapping maybe? There’s a good question!
Note to Tower Hamlets Council: LW is fed up that we spend a huge amount of time publicising events like this for free when council officers get paid to do this but seem completely and utterly incapable of doing their jobs. Just saying.