News Walthamstow

Future of 80-year-old community centre hangs in balance

Waltham Forest Council are dithering over whether to go ahead with an eviction
By Victoria Munro

Sean, Melissa and Michael (left to right) in the Forest Community Centre
Sean, Melissa and Michael (left to right) in the Forest Community Centre

The future of an 80-year-old community centre hangs in the balance as Waltham Forest Council decides whether to go ahead with an eviction.

In August, Michael Michael, chair of the Forest Community Centre in Guildford Road, Walthamstow, was shocked to receive a letter saying the council wanted them out by March.

The centre, running since 1962, is home to two drama groups, karate classes, table tennis and more and is used every day and by at least 150 people a week.

After spending months negotiating a rent increase, the council decided it needed to use the building as its hub for food bank donations, currently based in Chingford’s soon-to-be-redeveloped Assembly Hall.

The Forest Community Centre

However, only days before this paper’s publication and weeks after it was first contacted for comment, the council stated it is considering changing its mind.

Speaking to the Echo before this last-minute development, Michael said the community centre had urged the council to consider other options or sharing the building to little success.

He said: “I’m worried about the wellbeing of the people that come here. We sent the council letters from our members and some were saying they would be lost without the centre and wouldn’t be going out at all.

“There are some table tennis players who have been playing since the 1960s and we also have a lot of local kids that come here because there’s no youth groups. If we’re going to be moved away, what happens to them?”

Sean Wilkinson, who runs one of the centre’s two drama groups, added: “We have to acknowledge there’s a need for the depot but we don’t believe this is the right place for it because of the lack of accessibility.”

This story is published by Waltham Forest Echo, Waltham Forest's free monthly newspaper and free news website. We are a not-for-profit publication, published by a small social enterprise. We have no rich backers and rely on the support of our readers. Donate or become a supporter.

Preparations for the centre’s new play

Forest Community Centre sits next to the North Circular, where it meets the Hale End Road flyover, and is only accessible via the residential street of Guildford Road.

Fellow member Melissa Quinn agreed, noting a depot “helps thousands, whereas our centre helps hundreds”, but said the council couldn’t even confirm that the new hub would be permanent.

She said: “We think it’s very short-sighted of the council to turf people who have been here for decades out for something that they don’t seem to have really thought through.”

Cabinet member Cllr Vicky Ashworth first responded to the Echo’s request for comment on 12th September but, on the 27th, said a “potentially alternative site” for the hub had “recently become available”.

The green room at Forest Community Centre

She said: “As the cost-of-living crisis worsens, the council’s Food Distribution Hub will continue to play an essential role in… ensuring the most vulnerable members of our community have the support they need.

“[However] the council recognises the importance of the activities hosted at the Forest Community Centre to the community.

“If viable, the alternative site could host the bulk of our food distribution operation and allow the Forest Community Centre to continue to be used. We are prioritising work to review the potential new site and will be updating the Forest Community Association in early October.”

According to the most recently discussed plans, the Assembly Hall and neighbouring Chingford Library will be knocked down and rebuilt with around 40 flats.

While the proposals have been debated for years, planning permission is not yet granted.

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