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“It really shook us up”: Sherriff Centre suffers attempted burglary and calls for community support

PUBLISHED: 11:20 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:51 08 April 2020

A notice left outside the office after the attempted break in. Picture: The Sherriff Centre

A notice left outside the office after the attempted break in. Picture: The Sherriff Centre

Sherriff Centre

“We turn up at work and we think ‘is today the day we’re going to be broken into – and you can’t be sure’.”

The Sherriff Centre in St James Church before it was closed. Picture: The Sherriff CentreThe Sherriff Centre in St James Church before it was closed. Picture: The Sherriff Centre

The Sherriff Centre in West Hampstead has suffered a series of burglaries in recent years, but the latest attempt to break into its office two weeks ago “felt like the tip of the iceberg”.

Yesterday (April 1), the community hub inside St James Church officially closed.

Yet despite coronavirus lockdown, Sherriff Centre manager Stephanie Duell says the “threat of security hasn’t stopped”.

“It really shook us up,” she said.

The Post Office inside the centre shut last week after abuse from customers who refused to follow social distancing measures. Picture: The Sherriff CentreThe Post Office inside the centre shut last week after abuse from customers who refused to follow social distancing measures. Picture: The Sherriff Centre

“It is the first time the office has been broken into, but it’s happened a number of times in the main church building.

“Every burglary we have, we put another layer of defence in place.”

With grassroots organisations and businesses fighting to stay afloat, Stephanie says the Sherriff Centre can’t afford to also pay repair costs.

She said: “When the church was broken into last time it cost us £5,000 to fix.

“It costs us so much money and it’s such a shame when we’ve done great fundraising and people have been so supportive of the centre.

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“Staff were working so hard and then someone breaks in and causes loads of damage.

“We’re not and have never been in a position to spend money on those things, particularly with footfall decreasing day by day over the last month.”

On Wednesday, the Post Office inside the centre was shut due to abuse from customers who refused to follow distancing rules.

Then on Wednesday the whole centre closed, which brought home a real sense of emptiness, Steph said.

“It’s a funny day today – it’s day one of the Sherriff Centre closing and I’m not really sure what it’s going to bring. We’re all feeling a bit sad.

“I had a moment in the quiet church yesterday when I thought ‘oh I really do hope that everything comes back together again when it’s noisy, busy and full of children’.

“It’s not nice when it’s quiet.”

“We really want to be back when this all ends and we want to open all our services as they were before - but we’ll need the community’s support for that.”

West Hampstead councillor Peter Taheri added: “The Sherriff Centre is a much-loved focal point for our community.

“As it supports and sustains us, we stand ready to support the Sherriff Centre in any way we can.

“We are really saddened to hear about this appalling attack on this vital community centre. I condemn the cowardly criminals who have done this.”

To donate to the Sherriff Centre’s fundraiser click here.


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