Seven charities and community groups based in Burgess Park’s soon-to-be redeveloped Giraffe House – including those who are part of the council’s own summer holiday provision – were left dismayed after being left in the dark over their future as their eviction notice loomed this month.
The site, which is due to be knocked down as part of the council’s plans for a skate bowl, was due to close up on September 17.
Southwark 1st Scouts leader Frances White told the News that for months she and other groups who use the building had been trying and failing to engage in dialogue with the Southwark Council about what happens next.
“Giraffe House was managed by the Creation Trust but that was coming to an end,” she said.
“We had hoped to stay and carry on in the building until it is due to be demolished, as that could be a long time yet and it would be empty for ages beforehand.
“We’ve had no information and it’s very difficult to find the kind of space we need as a lot of TRA halls need maintenance or don’t have secure outside space for activities or church halls need to charge what we can’t afford to pay.
“The seven groups based in Giraffe House dovetail really well together. We have Burgess Sports doing their holiday and summer camps and feeding kids, we have Silver Fit for older people and a Latino club and Community Cycle Works.
“We always knew we were on borrowed time but we thought there would be a natural extension on the lease and then an alternative.
“It is a busy time for the council so I’m just hoping it’s an oversight that they haven’t let us know what is going on.
“September 17 is due to be our last day. We’re not blaming anyone here – we’re here to serve our local community – not blame people for this situation.”
The group had set up a petition, called Save Our Space, calling for more support now term has started and the groups are still left in limbo.
Last Friday, with just days to go until the eviction, she received a letter from Southwark Council confirming the premises had been taken over by the charity Mentivity for an interim period and that “someone will be in contact before the start of September”. The letter was dated September 2.
As yet, she says, no one has made contact and it is unclear what the terms of their lease are – and if it has been extended or not.
On Wednesday morning, after being questioned by the News about the situation, councillor Catherine Rose, cabinet member for transport, parks and sport at Tooley Street, admitted that not every group would be able to stay in the building.
“We have some really exciting plans for the space in the future, which continues to support sport and recreation for young people,” she said.
“This follows the success of other leisure opportunities in the area, such as the BMX track.
“Meanwhile, and following a tender process, Mentivity will now be managing the building’s use.
“They have spoken to all of their new sub-tenants and confirmed to the council that SE17 Working and Half Pints can be accommodated on their current terms.
“The BMX Club and Burgess Sports can be accommodated on the basis of a fee for use of the space – this would be paid to Mentivity and will contribute towards the running costs of the building.
“As these organisations will be sub-tenants of Mentivity, it is for them to agree terms with Mentivity rather than the council.
“There are a small number of groups that cannot continue to be based in Giraffe House, once Mentivity begin to deliver their programmes.
“As a council we value the work of all the groups that have been based in Giraffe House so far.
“Council officers are in touch with these organisations to support them to manage the changes and offer practical help them find alternative spaces.”