Wapping community volunteers were in tears this week after being ordered by Tower Hamlets council to vacate the first floor and reception at 15 Chandler Street by 4pm this Friday 19th October.
Members of our community, led by Christine Trumper, have been trying to formalise an arrangement with the council to use the empty space at 15 Chandler Street created by the closure of the children’s centre.
This will all come to an end on Friday.
Council Asset Management staff have been busy taking photographs of the building’s locks prior to changing them.
Full disclosure: Love Wapping has been an occasional volunteer at 15 Chandler Street.
Reinforcing fear, division and anguish
“I feel very empty that the council take no consideration of services that we delivered to meet community need,” said Christine Trumper. “Neither council officers or our elected representatives have any understanding of what Wapping wants. I am on the floor to be honest. Without a base we cannot apply for funding and the unprofessional manner in which the council have dealt with us has already meant the loss of potential partnerships. ”
“The Council has only served to reinforce division, fear and anguish amongst community groups – was this their intention?”
Raines House planning application rejected
The closure of 15 Chandler Street comes on the heels of the rejection of the council’s own planning application for the £1.3m Raines House refurbishment by it’s own Development Committee on 27th September. (Item 4.1 on this document) Planning permission was refused on the basis that the proposed internal alterations would have an adverse impact on the special architectural and historic character of the listed building.
Reason for suggested refurb of Raines still a mystery
It has yet to be discovered who in the council decided that spending £1.3m of council money on the refurbishment of Raines House without any prior consultation – or even informal conversations – with Wapping residents would be a better idea than spending the money Council run nurseries which are to be closed due to lack of funding.
At the same time that the refurbishment of Raines was revealed Christine Trumper and other volunteers decided to make good use of 15 Chandler Street which was empty apart from the Step by Step nursery on the ground floor.
In the seven months that Wapping volunteers have been using the empty floor at 15 Chandler Street they have started a diverse range of services including:
- East London Rape Crisis Counselling Service
- Arts Sense and Mental Health
- Pre / Post Natal Pilates
- Tuina Massage (Sports Injury)
- Children’s birthday parties at weekend (particularly popular among parents).
- Soft Play by Once Upon a Time
- Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) funded Mindfulness sessions
- Lithuanian Rebirthing Technique
- Creche service (started in last two weeks)
More services than these would also have started at 15 Chandler Street but because of the antagonistic* attitude of the Council’s Asset Management team, this has not been possible. (*We are being generous in the use of that word.)
Christine’s own charity, Community Solutions, has also been providing Education Station, Trumpers Jumpers, Conversational English Classes, Employment Training & Development and Work Experience.
All of these services – provided by Wapping residents for Wapping residents – will be terminated on Friday.
(The first floor may be used by Polyannas as they have to move out of their existing space in Raines House. Or they might move to Glamis Hall. See comment piece by Cllr. Andrew Wood here for more details.)
Update: Our understanding is that Glamis Hall has been available to the Council since August but council officers have so far failed to make a decision on it being used as a replacement for Raines House.
Loss of Chandler Street detrimental to rape counselling service
Helene Wander, Manager of the East London Rape Crisis Counselling Service says that not being able to use Chandler Street would have a significant and detrimental effect on her service users in Tower Hamlets.
“We work with women who have experienced sexual violence trauma,” says Helen. “It is extremely important what we are able to offer them a safe, consistent and especially local venue to allow them to benefit from the long-term therapeutic interventions they need. Loss of our safe small room or changes of venue, with possible other disruptions to times or days, would be very detrimental and seriously interfere with our work with the women.”
“A safe and convenient space”
Helen says that through the hard work of Christine Trumper and other volunteers she has been provided with “a safe, convenient and very serviceable working space from which we can provide our oversubscribed service to the women of Tower Hamlets and we appreciated this greatly. We do not want to lose this as I believe we offer a very valuable and valued local service with your support.”
In addition to the services provided community volunteers have also been manning the reception area and providing advice to those who need it.
To add insult to injury neither Cllr. Abdal Ullah (Labour, Wapping) or Cllr. Denise Jones (Labour Wapping, Mayor Biggs’ closest allies in the Labour Administration, have been any use at all according to volunteers.
Cllr. Ullah went as far as to reject a request by Christine to present a petition to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that he chairs, telling her that “It is a done deal”.
What is the point?
“There is no representation, we have not been supported by our local councillors,” said Christine. “I do know of eight other councillors who do want to see the services be sustained, but if councillors have no impact or say then what is the point?”
Liberal Democrat opposition Councillor Rabina Khan in neighbouring Shadwell had this to say. “The closure of a vital project at 15 Chandler Street comes after the Labour administration recently decided to outsource vital council-run nurseries; clearly this is an indication that children, families and communities are not at the heart of the Labour administration.”
Sterling help from Isle of Dogs Conservatives
Two ward councillors that have stepped up and helped Christine and other Wapping residents with the issues of community activities at Chandler Street and Raines House – Cllr. Andrew Wood (Conservative, Canary Wharf) and Cllr. Peter Golds (Conservative, Island Gardens).
Cllr Wood has written an excellent overview of the situation at Raines House which we urge you to read.
That two opposition councillors from the Isle of Dogs have been the only elected representatives to help residents in Labour-held Wapping speaks volumes.
For the last few months we have observed at first hand as Wapping residents have tried to negotiate a series of obstacles created by the Council to stop them from making use of 15 Chandler Street.
It has been a shameful episode. Forget about the lack of basic competency – Tower Hamlets Council has shown a lack of humanity.
Very early on in this sorry tale it became apparent that there was something very wrong with the way the Council was dealing with the issue. Individual personnel seemed to have their own agendas which were at odds with the basic goal of helping residents provide services to their own community in Chandler Street.
At the same time just 50m away the proposed refurbishment of Raines House was also being mismanaged by the Council, threatening to exclude elderly Wapping residents from a community centre they had been using for many decades. True there have been issues with the way services have been run at Raines – but they were still delivered.
At no time has it become clear as to why the Council were so intent on blocking residents from using an empty council building in Chandler Street.
But then it has never been clear why the Council decided to spend £1.3m on a refurbishment of Raines House.
It was almost as if someone somewhere had made a decision to refurbish Raines for their own motives and also decided to block the use of 15 Chandler Street at the same time.
That’s just a guess. But nothing else we have seen or researched makes any sense whatsoever either.
To be fair Wapping resident Mayor Biggs became personally involved in an attempt to sort out the situation. However, if the person running a massive organisation with a £1bn turnover has to get involved in an issue like this it a good indication that the organisation is dysfunctional.