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‘This gives people a chance’: Keir Starmer opens woodwork workshop for Highgate Newtown Community Centre

PUBLISHED: 08:00 16 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:46 16 September 2020

Keir Starmer visiting the woodwork facility on September 11. Picture: Polly Hancock

Keir Starmer visiting the woodwork facility on September 11. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer helped officially open Highgate Newtown Community Centre’s (HNCC’s) woodwork workshop last Friday.

Woodwork students Susan McConnell and Monika Rego. The centrepiece is a dinosaur puzzle made by tutor Jessica Straw. Polly HancockWoodwork students Susan McConnell and Monika Rego. The centrepiece is a dinosaur puzzle made by tutor Jessica Straw. Polly Hancock

The Labour leader paid a visit to the underground, converted car park in Stoneleigh Terrace where Wood That Works runs sessions for participants aged five to 71 years old, including children with ADHD, Asperger’s, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

The local MP, who has since gone into self-isolation after a member of his household displayed possible coronavirus symptoms, said: “For young people it is so important they have something creative they can do.

“I’ve done a lot of work on youth safety and I’m absolutely convinced that the answer to that is projects like this, which actually help people, give them something to do to develop their skills and self-confidence.

“What’s happening here is not just for the here and now, but it will be a life-changing experience that gives people a chance. That is an incredible thing to do.”

The co-chair of Camden’s youth safety task force joked the “calming element” of woodwork could help MPs in Parliament.

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The facility, which looks out onto Highgate Cemetery, runs classes for schools and youth offending services, as well as women’s sessions and woodwork therapy.

Ricky Jefferson, who helps run Wood That Works, said its classes give people the confidence to be creative and use power tools in a safe environment.

He told the Ham&High: “The beauty about woodwork is that you can start from a very young age and then continue with it as you get older.

Carpentry tutor Jessica Straw with student Margaret Lally. Picture: Polly HancockCarpentry tutor Jessica Straw with student Margaret Lally. Picture: Polly Hancock

“We’ve got a 71-year-old coming in and she loves it because she wants to use power tools.”

Ricky added: “It’s not so much a job anymore, it’s just fun. We’ve got an amazing team here and it takes special people to do what we do.”

Andrew Sanalitro, HNCC’s CEO, said the woodwork project allowed people to learn new skills “or simply just have time to be”.

He said the community centre’s vision was to build the “strongest possible bond” with people that rely on it, and he thanked Camden Council for its support.

Redevelopment work on HNCC’s base in Bertram Street – which is being demolished and replaced alongside 31 new homes – has started.


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