Hackney Council Seizes African-Caribbean book store Centerprise

Emmanuel Amevor inside the shop Monday 30 October Photo: Remi Makinde

At a recent meeting with Centerprises Chief Executive, Emmanuel Amevor, I wasn’t kidding when I commented “if Hackney council was a lover, you’d have to sleep with one eye open”.  He roared with laughter and nodded, I assume agreeing with me.  Following a protracted legal fight with Hackney Council, it came to pass on Wednesday night.

On Friday he issued a statement: “They came like thieves in the dead of night to seize the property when no one was around” .

Amevor and his staff arrived at the building on 136-138  Kingsland High Road on Thursday morning, to find the locks to the 42 year old book-store and community centre were changed, despite their recent appeal being lodged in the High Courts.

A concerned Amevor said;  “We have many valuables in the property and no inventory has been taken. We hope everything is safe as we are talking of over four decades of Hackney’s black British cultural history. The trustees are currently taking legal action on the matter.”

Arthur Torrington, CBE and Secretary of the Windrush Foundation, who was to be involved in the African History and Heritage  event at the centre on Saturday 3rd November,  said;  “I am angry at the way Hackney Council, a labour Council, has treated black Britons in London. What are the reasons for their anger and indecent actions? This Labour Council should be ashamed of itself”. He encouraged people to write to Mayor Jules Pipe.

On 16 October Centerprise lost it’s legal battle in the London Central County  Court, but filed an appeal within a few days which would have postponed any eviction. When I met with Amevor he was very optimistic of a positive outcome and reiterated several times;

Defiant   Photo: Remi Makinde

“Long after they are gone Centerprise will still be here”.  Outside, next to the entrance to the restaurant is a colourful mural stating “Still Open”.  Two days after the court ruling Amevor says, they were being harassed by the council.

The centre consists of a book store, Caribbean restaurant and space used for work shops, a supplementary Saturday school and other community activities. Their wrangles date back over 12 years ago when it appeared there was renewed interest in the building. According to Amevor, the council attempted to sell the building without the trustees knowledge by putting it up for auction. When the trustees caught wind of it, they registered a caution with the Land Registry, however Hackney Council was able to have the caution removed when Centerprise was unable to produce documents backing their beneficial interest and therein lies a lot of their problems. While Centerprises claims maybe legitimate, they don’t have the documents to back up.  Blame it on earlier mismanagement or just downright sloppy record keeping, the council has since had an advantage over them.

David V Goliath in Hackney

The organization claims that back in the early 1980’s the previous landlord and owner of the building put it up for sale, Centerprise showed an interest in purchasing it and were awarded a £50,ooo grant from the inner city partnership fund in 1984.  According to them the grant was given to Hackney Council, who bought the building while telling Centerprise it was against council policy to buy building or property for organizations.  Three other groups , including two from Hackney and the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) were also awarded grants from the same pot. The IRR received their grant directly to buy their building.

I understand documents have recently surfaced indicating the boroughs Valuer advised the then leader of the borough,  it was in their interest to buy the building, suggesting it would return to them should the organization cease operating. Since then Centerprise has been paying a ‘peppercorn’ rent of £520 per year, which the council decided was not enough.

In a recent statement issued, Hackney Council said;  For “many months Hackney Council has committed to working with Centerprise to resolve this situation and despite our best efforts, unfortunately the Council was left with no option but to go to court.

“Centerprise were paying a rent of £520 per year for the use of this building for many years. That’s just 8p per square foot and significantly less than the subsidised rent rate of £4 per square foot. The Council has a responsibility to ensure that the tax payers of Hackney receive a fair rent for its buildings including 136-138 Kingsland High Street and given the great demand for buildings by the voluntary sector, that each group is treated the same.

“The Council has no intention of selling the building and it is committed to ensuring that it is used by a voluntary or community group to provide services to the people of Hackney”.

Not so claims Amevor, “Reading what they [Hackney Council] puts out, people are led to believe we all couldn’t reach an agreement. They have ignored all our offers and efforts, leaving us to find out from local press.

“In fact we have heard of all our offers being turned down from the Hackney Gazette and not from the Council.

“Over the years we have tried to enter dialogues over ownership of the building but get nowhere. We have always been open to negotiations over the rent, yet all they speak of is the market value.  It’s obvious all they want is the building”.

Writing on the wall

It’s hard to believe they are doing all this just to rent a very desirable building to another charity.  Hackney Council’s squashing of the little man is nothing new, we’ve seen the councils shameless  and perverse acts of skulduggery before, remember Spirit in Broadway Market in 2009? Their all consuming pandering to off-shore developers and spectators is altering the areas cultural landscape, taking away a valuable community hub like Centerprise.

Labour speaks of the coalitions welfare cuts and the capping of housing benefits that will ultimately push lower income people out of inner London, they call it social cleansing.  Well folks, Labour run Hackney, is now attempting their own form of ethnic and social cleansing, certain groups are on their way to be gentrified out of extinction in the borough.  It is insidious and terminal.

Businesses like Spirit’s and Centerprise are easy pickings, they have the life squeezed out of them with exorbitant rent hikes and legal bills while the council and it’s cohorts sell off bits of Hackney to off-shore companies and the Chinese.  Recently, Cllr Guy Nicholson was giddy with excitement as he discussed Hackneys new planned ‘fashion hub‘ in a BBC interview.  Hackney Council’s answer to last years riots, is ploughing much of the £5.3 million it received from the Mayor of London’s regeneration scheme into a high end clothing village.

Maybe Hackney Council and all those spectators benefiting from the regeneration funds awarded, should get down on their bended knees and thank the rioters for their contribution to their windfall.

The petition

Centerprise Web Site

 

About Remi

Remi Hackney Hive founder, publisher and contributor. Hackneyite and all round Girl Friday, who couldn't wait to leave Hackney and London behind her. After hitching her wagon in California, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana for 18 years, with a brief spell in Mexico, the prodigal daughter returned happy to put an unconventional and risky past behind her. She is owned by her two dogs Deffer(a Jack Russell & Darcy a Jack Russell/Pomeranian mix) and runs a London based pet sitting business. The big smoke is home for the moment, but she desperately yearns wide open spaces, where she hopes to call home in the near future.

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