Fears for young as the Caraf Centre is closed

Centre shut due to funding crisis has been a lifeline for those ‘failed by the education system’C

Thursday, 31st March — By Harry Taylor

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Caraf’s chair of trustees Darrell Ennis-Gayle

A PERFECT storm of factors is behind the closure of a Queen’s Crescent community ­centre set up to support the black and Afro-Caribbean community, as its chair of trustees now fears there will be a lack of support for youngsters without it.

The Caraf Centre will shut today (Thursday) after more than 40 years.

Its chair Darrell Ennis-Gayle said the closure also follows a decline in the number of black and Afro-Caribbean people living in Camden.

Parents at the centre’s Sunshine Day Nursery were told a fortnight ago it would close. Caraf had previously run after school classes and an education advice service.

Mr Ennis-Gayle is still hoping for a last-minute reprieve and talks continue with Camden Council, but services will still finish today.

He said: “Hand on heart, we have done everything we could to keep it going.

“It’s with great reluctance we have taken this decision, and if there was a way we could have kept it going and kept the centre sustainable, we would have done it.

However, we were faced with the prospect that in the new financial year we would not have been able to pay our rent and, more importantly, we would not have been able to pay our nursery staff. The idea of doing that was unconscionable.”

Mr Ennis-Gayle said the closure came after the “perfect storm” of a leak from a council flat that damaged a room in the nursery in October, meaning it could not be used, the inability to hire a centre manager to run it, and the Covid pandemic.

He added that the decision had been taken in the last few months when assessing the finances for the year ahead, including £15,000 rent to Camden.

He said the decision was difficult after the death of its founder John Oke in 2019.

“I was with him close to his death and I promised I would become chair and I would try to do everything I could to keep the centre going,” said Mr Ennis-Gayle. “We have tried our best.”

He himself grew up in Malden Road and attended classes himself at the Caraf’s centre in Queen’s Crescent, and its former office in Prince of Wales Road. It was established as the Camden Black Parents and Teachers Association (CBP&TA) in 1980.

He now works as a senior associate for Hodge, Jones and Allen in Euston. He said that without its support, he would not have got the job he now has – but fears a lack of opportunities for other black families.

He said: “The educational system is failing our black brothers and sisters and I just wonder where these families are going to go now.

“Hopefully it will be replicated elsewhere, because while there might be less people from an Afro-Caribbean background living in the area, it is needed and we helped all disadvantaged people from all backgrounds.”

He added: “There’s lots of happy memories. We helped more than 6,000 children and parents since we were founded, and I remember things like every year we used to send a carnival float to Notting Hill, and you had John who was fond of a glass of wine and was always good company.”

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