Highgate community forms supergroup to fight off council cuts

Diners enjoy the first community lunch of the new Highgate Hub partnership. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Diners enjoy the first community lunch of the new Highgate Hub partnership. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Treasured community services have taken into their own hands the problem of how to survive relentless rounds of tough funding cuts by forming a Highgate supergroup.

Barbara Smith, chairwoman of Holly Lodge Community Centre and Andrew Sanalitro, director of Highgate

Barbara Smith, chairwoman of Holly Lodge Community Centre and Andrew Sanalitro, director of Highgate Newtown Community Centre. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Known as “The Highgate Hub,” four of Highgate’s most popular community services have said they will stand strong together to ensure they continue to stay open to serve the isolated and elderly.

By sharing resources and volunteers, they aim to eventually become self-sufficient in an attempt to stop relying on ever-depleted Camden Council funding.

Highgate Library in Chester Road, Highgate Newtown Community Centre in Bertram Street, St Anne’s Church in Highgate West Hill and Holly Lodge Community Centre in Makepeace Avenue are those committed to working together in the face of council cuts.

Highgate Newtown director Andrew Sanalitro said: “If we don’t support each other, we will all fall, so we try to work together.”

Library treasurer Linda Lefevre added: “It’s about supporting each other, sharing our skills in kind.

“We are aware of what the community needs and we are stronger together.”

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From April, Highgate Library and Highgate Newtown will see their funding slashed by a combined total of £113,500.

To prepare for its funding being slashed from £160,000 to £60,000, the library has trained up a team of volunteers who will run the library from April alongside one member of council staff.

Highgate Newtown saw its funding drop from £95,500 to £82,000.

Meanwhile, Holly Lodge Community Centre has not received council funding for years and benefits only from rent relief, an agreement up for renewal next year.

All services fear that within a few short years, all financial support will be lost as the council comes under increasing pressure to deal with its own funding cuts.

Barbara Smith, chairwoman of Holly Lodge, said: “If one community centre closes down, a lot of residents will suffer as it’s hard for some to go from Holly Lodge to Highgate Newtown or from Highgate Newtown to Holly Lodge.”

Ms Lefevre, who also sits on the board of trustees at Highgate Newtown, added: “It’s really sad that community centres are just cut and cut and cut.

“We are keeping our heads above water, but the need is always there.”

Mr Sanalitro said: “But we are confident. This is an exciting time.”

On Sunday, Highgate Newtown and Holly Lodge marked the new partnership with a community lunch on the Holly Lodge estate.

Highgate Newtown donated a turkey for the Sunday roast while volunteers from both centres served up food, an example of how the services will support each other.

Specific details of how the partnership will work are currently being discussed by the directors.

Diner Joan Ball, 80, said that without the centres, many of her fellow estate residents would stay behind locked doors. “I have been very isolated and suffered with depression,” said the former match-maker, who lives alone and is recovering from a knee replacement.

Ms Ball, who has plans to set up a community group to help those suffering from loneliness, added: “We need a community centre and particularly in Holly Lodge.

“We are terribly isolated because we are very cut off.”

Cllr Abdul Hai, cabinet member for customers, communities and culture, said: “At a time of substantial cuts in funding from central government, the council is supportive of any activity from community organisations to be innovative, work together and share best practices and is pleased to see these four organisations linking up to provide services and activities for the residents in their neighbourhood.”

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