This was the response I gave when asked by the then Lead Member for Finance, Councillor Gerald McGregor, whether the Community Group councillors who at the time represented the wards of Syon and Isleworth would have a problem with him implementing an officer recommendation to "dispose of" (i.e. sell for development) the Community Centre on St. John's Road.
Councillor McGregor fully understood our position, and obligingly withdrew the proposal from his list of potential economies.
Our position was simple. We were councillors for Isleworth and for Syon. More than that, we were community councillors for Isleworth and for Syon. This building served over 30 user groups in our own back yard. If, holding the balance of power on the Council, we couldn't keep this building open then there was little point in us being there. A little while later we secured £250,000 from the 2010 council budget for some essential repairs to the roof of the building for good measure.
The senior officers bided their time. A change in administration and, they deduced, the election of councillors less committed to their individual wards and less inclined ideologically to support independent community groups meant they could once again offer up St. John's Community Centre as a sacrificial lamb, in preference to any of those internal departmental savings that senior officers so dislike.
Sadly, it appears they were right. A report to Cabinet (formerly known as the Executive) on November 8th agreed "in principle" to dispose of this popular and widely-used community resource, "subject to consultation".
The significance of this caveat is moot. On the surface it would appear to suggest that massive public opposition to the closure could have the effect of halting it. On the other hand, no provision has been made for returning the item to Cabinet following any such consultation, which would conversely suggest that the decision is considered to be final irrespective of the outcome of a consultation that is being undertaken purely as a statutory duty.
The Community Group has taken a more relaxed and engaging approach towards the current Labour administration than had been the case in the past. Individual councillors have seemed more accommodating, more prepared to reach out to us as a community and to embrace the unique localist spirit that remains in Isleworth in particular in spite of our election reverse.
But we would be failing in our duty to our local people were we to stand back and watch the desecration of our community's infrastructure. Whether such spiteful assaults on our civic life are member or officer driven, we must resist them and we will.
Back in February over 300 Isleworth residents braved appalling weather to march in support of our Library and Public Hall. We call upon them to turn out again to defend St. John's Community Centre. We were supported at that time by our Conservative MP Mary Macleod and by our three Isleworth Labour ward councillors. We hope we will be again.
Isleworth is a vibrant, thriving community. We will not be closed down, whether for budgetary savings or for political advantage. Please turn out on Saturday and support St. John's residents and user groups as they fight to keep a valuable community asset in the hands of the local people.
Saturday, 19th November 2011
Meet outside the Centre, 10.30 am