'Dig deep and support Highgate Newtown Community Centre this Christmas'

Green Party's Sian Berry arriving at City Hall, London

The Green Party's Sian Berry outside City Hall - Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Last Christmas, the only time I left my flat to gather in any kind of group was to support the events from the Highgate Newtown Community Centre (HNCC).

On Boxing Day, socially distanced bingo at St Mary Brookfield church was a masked and distanced affair with a strict limit of 15 people, but these events provided a lifeline against loneliness for residents during a very hard time.

At the end of another tough year, I want to celebrate the many ways our community in Highgate has come together since the pandemic started.

From Naomi Russell setting up the Food Bank Aid distribution hub in her home garage to the Holly Lodge Community Centre and many other street and estate-based Whatsapp groups providing care, activities, support and essentials. Many of these groups are still daily sharing help and practical advice. 

HNCC Wellness Cafe at St Michael’s Church Highgate 02.11.21.
From left volunteer Mrs O’Neill, Siobha

HNCC Wellness Cafe at St Michael’s Church, Highgate. From left volunteer Mrs O’Neill, Siobhan Tazarni, Rev Kunle Ayodeji, HNCC director Andrew Sanalitro, and lunch guests Sheila Prestridge and Mei-Tak Yeh. - Credit: Polly Hancock

HNCC has been at the heart of Highgate’s response to challenges for decades. With the crisis of the pandemic coinciding with the demolition and rebuilding of the centre itself, any other organisation might have struggled to respond without a central base, but the opposite happened. 

With the support of local councillors and community infrastructure funding, the centre has instead expanded both its work and its geographical footprint, making use of TRA halls, schools and churches to reach every person in need it can. 

Last Christmas we sorely missed HNCC’s famous free lunch for older people but, though we missed out on the sprouts and the singing, our area has never lost the benefits of a strong organisation at its heart. 

Now, with the completion of the new centre in 2022, fitting out their new building brings a further challenge for the HNCC team: they need to raise over £600,000, and I hope the local community will respond with the same generosity that they have supported all of us. I have every confidence this next hurdle won’t hold them back and they will emerge this year as a stronger than ever centrepiece of Highgate’s spirit.

And though this column is about Highgate – I know there are similar stories in every ward across Camden, Haringey and London-wide. As we all face more uncertainty, let’s celebrate every way in which our communities come together, and wish all of these amazing projects a successful and happy new year.

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Sian Berry (Green Party) is a London Assembly Member, a Highgate councillor and a former London mayoral candidate.