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LYNNE FEATHERSTONE: Council puts theatre's future at risk

PUBLISHED: 12:58 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:41 07 September 2010

TO fund or not to fund? That is the question facing Arts Council England over our Jacksons Lane Community Centre. Just over a couple of years ago I went to the 30th anniversary celebrations of the centre - an evening thick with reminiscences about the exc

TO fund or not to fund? That is the question facing Arts Council England over our Jacksons Lane Community Centre.

Just over a couple of years ago I went to the 30th anniversary celebrations of the centre - an evening thick with reminiscences about the excellent community campaigning that went into bringing about the creation of the centre in the first place.

The event included a production called 'Motions in Time' by Daryl Beeton - an actor with a disability - and highly appropriate given how Jacksons Lane led the way in its work making disabled actors a parity in the profession.

That is but one example of the benefits Jacksons Lane has brought the community.

Its courses and events have brought so much enjoyment and knowledge to the community - and, like any great community resource, has enriched and strengthened our community too.

Whenever I've visited - whether on official business or to sample its offerings myself - I've been struck by the breadth of events and range of people involved.

Sadly, though, this much loved community centre now faces losing key funding (a £125,000 a year grant) because the Arts Council have questioned Haringey Council's commitment to the centre. And if Haringey Council isn't committed to the centre, why then - goes their logic - should they also put money in?

Wouldn't their money be better spent on, and get more value from, projects in other communities which do have full local backing?

The problem is that Haringey Council is the landlord at Jacksons Lane - and for years and years did nothing much on the maintenance of the building.

The centre itself is in an invidious position as I guess it has always been difficult for it to criticise the hand that feeds it, and so it has always tried to get help without making a big fuss and it has been reluctant to attack the council publicly.

The need for some major renovation work built up - a situation made worse by a storm causing roof damage in early 2006 that was so severe the centre had to close.

Haringey dragged its feet for a long time on sorting this, though in the run-up to the last council elections suddenly found the money for the repairs after all - handy thing, elections!

But this reluctance to fund repairs - combined with Haringey Council's refusal to give the centre a 25 years lease - have made the Arts Council doubt Haringey's commitment.

If the Arts Council cuts its grant, things will be very grim for Jacksons Lane.

Already the refusal of the 25-year lease means Jacksons Lane missed out on applying for a £1million grant from the Community Asset Fund (one of the lottery funds) and now with the Arts Council grant under threat too, things are not looking great.

So I've been busy lobbying the Arts Council and also working with the area's councillors (Bob Hare, Justin Portess and Neil Williams) to mobilise the community to make sure that our voice is heard.

I think Neil Williams (Liberal Democrat council leader) got it spot on when he said: ''Jacksons Lane is a wonderful community asset for Highgate, providing classes and a space for meetings that is really valued by local people - but it has been badly neglected by the Labour Council.''

The Arts Council may have good reasons to doubt Haringey Council's commitment - but we must make sure they hear loud and clear the message that the rest of the community is committed to the centre.

As well as collecting signatures door-to-door on a petition, we have also been running an online petition - which I hope Ham&High readers will sign up to. It's at www.ourcampaign.org.uk/ jacksons - please do sign it!

In the meantime, for me it's back to lobbying, lobbying, lobbying - otherwise known as nagging which, as I've commented on before, is right up my street as a middle-aged woman's life skill!

Lynne Featherstone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey & Wood Green

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