Highgate community centre’s new boss aims to raise standards and funding

There are a lot of changes taking place at Highgate Newtown Community Centre.

Faced with an uncertain future, the charity, based in Bertram Street, Highgate, has the hard task of trying to balance its books.

But this has not fazed its new director, Andrew Sanalitro, who says he has what it takes to steer the charity through its economic woes.

Fortunately, Mr Sanalitro comes with a good track record and a wealth of experience.

For seven years he was chief executive of the Tab Centre in Shoreditch, east London, a unique venue where profits go towards helping vulnerable sections of the community.

Before that he worked for a charity which helped homeless people in Kent.

Now he has taken on the new challenge of reinvigorating Highgate Newtown Community Centre – and getting its house in order is his first priority.

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“It’s not going to be easy,” said Mr Sanalitro, who joined just over two months ago.

“We still get funding from Camden Council, but we are not sure if we will get it in 18 months’ time when we have to bid for it again.

“The centre hasn’t delivered what it should have been doing for the community for a long time.

“It is about raising standards. Just because it is a community centre, people should be able to sit on a nice chair or look at a nice painting.”

Despite the financial strain, Mr Sanalitro and chairman of the board Mags O’Reilly have big plans for the site, which is owned by Camden Council.

They have set up a Men’s Sheds group where men who feel isolated can learn skills and interact with others to help them connect with their communities and mainstream society.

The centre is also about to launch its Christmas campaign to help families in need with food parcels during the festive period.

Collecting tins will be located across the borough and money will go towards helping families in crisis.

On Thursdays, anyone in the community can pop in and enjoy a three-course meal for just 50p.

Another exciting project, called Suited and Booted, aims to help people prepare for job interviews.

“We have recently launched an over-55s holiday club and have plans for a new arts project for our top floor,” Ms O’Reilly added.

“Like many organisations we face a challenging time, with growing needs in our community matched with less central and local government funding.

“But under our new director we are looking at new and innovative ways of generating income.”

This is where Mr Sanalitro’s expertise in securing private funding comes in.

“People think because we are in Highgate, we are affluent. But we are not,” he said.

“We are a pocket of Highgate which has been forgotten about.

“We have to reinvent ourselves. We want to retain this site and have investment put into it to make it a better community space.

“We are now building for a better future. Things are moving forward. We need to be positive. This centre is here to stay and we want people to know that we are here.”