A dispute has broken out over the future of a Caribbean community centre in north London which has fallen into serious disrepair after years of neglect by its landlord, the local council.
A Haringey councillor admitted its failure to maintain the building but has said that the council plans to bring it back to life instead.
The West Indian Cultural Centre (WICC) in Wood Green was constructed in the 1980s, becoming a vibrant hub for cultural events and debates on subjects such as the struggle for racial equality.
It drew huge numbers of visitors who came to hear speakers including the Nobel prize-winning poet Derek Walcott, the American civil rights activist Al Sharpton and the MP Bernie Grant.
Stewart Wellington, whose parents arrived in the UK from Jamaica in the 1950s as part of the Windrush generation, has drawn up plans worth millions of dollars to demolish the centre and start again.
Wellington said he wants it to be a bigger home within an ambitious scheme that will not cost the taxpayer a penny, while instilling pride in local people.
Drawing on advice from the community’s elders, he wants to revive the centre as a hub for black, Asian and minority-ethnic voices of all ages.
He and his partners have acquired the adjacent site, and their development plan includes a 14-storey building, with 30 new affordable homes. It will also change its name to the African Caribbean Cultural Centre to reflect a postcolonial emphasis.
A spokesman for the council acknowledged “the shortcomings in the current building” but said it planned to lead the site’s redevelopment 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.”
In response, Wellington said: “The council may say it’s committed to redeveloping the centre with the WICC. But the WICC is already committed to partnering with our venture. We own a contiguous site, which the council doesn’t own, which forms part of our proposals.
“In the world of reality, the trustees don’t want to work with you [the council]. You haven’t fixed the building. You haven’t laid a finger on the building in the last 20 years. So where’s the confidence? We want to deliver it ourselves. You don’t own the interest at the end to create a comprehensive development. There’s quite a few boxes left unchecked to the deficit of the council’s deluded aspirations.”
Wellington and his business partners, Paul Simon and Magic Homes, have already spent £1m in planning and architects’ fees, and the whole scheme will cost tens of millions.