The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, which serves as a focal point for the Irish community in Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush, was promised a lease extension by the Council to 2017 in January last year. Since then, however, it has become a target for our Council's bonanza buildings sell off programme and is now threatened with imminent closure.
The Centre, which is staffed primarily by unpaid volunteers, serves elderly people with a mix of cultural events and other suppoirt services whila also serving the rest of the anglo Irish community with a range of activities for children and everyone in-between. As you can gather by the way I'm presenting this case I am a little bit biased being in part of Irish descent myself. So allow me to introduce Pádraig Belton, spokesperson for the Centre, to tell you why he thinks you should sign their online petition to save the Centre instead:
“The Irish Cultural Centre plays exceptionally important roles towards the elderly, some of whom emigrated with the scars of institutional abuse, and many others finding themselves alone in their late years. It also has offered a home for ethnic and cultural programming for a host of London immigrant communities without their own spaces. With Irish immigration to London on the increase, it plays an important role in the settlement of persons newly arriving from Ireland. To sell it would be short-sighted - staffed largely by volunteers, it is precisely an example of any sort of Big Society, and is exceptionally good value to the local authority.
Through the hard work and dedication of its staff, the Centre has become world-renowned for its essential place in London Irish culture. It would be a black day for the cultural diversity that makes London so great a place to belong to.”
When I first reported this story in July this year the Irish Embassy responded to the Council's announcement of its decision to close the Centre by saying this:
“The Embassy is very disappointed to have been informed that Hammersmith Council does not intend to extend the current lease. The Government strongly hopes that a solution can be found which will allow the Centre to continue its valuable work,” adding that the Irish State has given significant sums to fund the centre’s “excellent” work in recent years.
Jim O’Hara, the chairman of the board of trustees of the centre – the only one of its type in the United Kingdom, said: “This fait accompli is completely unexpected and has come as a major shock.”
You can sign the Irish Centre's online petition here - please do so.