Pioneering community centre at risk of closure

Caraf centre was born out of the Black Parents Movement in 1980

Thursday, 24th March — By Harry Taylor

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The Caraf Centre


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A PIONEERING community centre and nursery set up for the black community in Camden could close its doors at the end of the month.

The Caraf Centre, in Queen’s Crescent, has told parents at the Sunshine Day Nursery – which forms part of the centre – that its last day of operation will be on March 31.

A note on its website says its wider services, which historically have included the Saturday morning Mandela school, an after-school homework club and parental support will be suspended until further notice.

The New Journal was told that the decision was based on finances which made the centre unviable, but further 11th-hour talks were taking place.

It has previously received council funding for services, and received cash from the Town Hall’s community infrastructure levy (CIL) – money raised through planning agreements – to go towards its Covid support.

The Charity Commission says its latest report is more than 50 days overdue.

Chair of Caraf Centre trustees Darrell Ennis-Gayle declined to comment to the New Journal ahead of meetings this week. Nursery manager Indira Vyas said staff had been told about the decision two weeks ago: “It’s the funding. They have not been able to raise the funds to keep the centre open and that is the reason.

“I think Covid has affected the other services like classes, but we have kept open. We have less children coming in now though. That is when they had to make the decision as income from the nursery can’t pay for everything.”

She added: “I was shocked and sad. I have been running the nursery for eight years, and now we have to find other jobs.” While the nursery has had capacity for up to 30 young children, more recently it has only been used by 16 or 17. The centre also had a baby room for under-twos.

Alice Mendelowitz, whose three-and-a-half- year-old daughter Marie has been going to the nursery for more than two years, said: “As a parent it’s all seemed to happen quickly. There are just not enough children and only a handful left now. We had a nativity at Christmas, and it was lovely, but there were only 10 kids there. It’s a great nursery.”

The centre was born out of the Black Parents Movement in 1980 amid concerns that black children were leaving school or being excluded with no formal qualifications.

Organisers were concerned about an under-representation of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) teachers in mainstream schools, a lack of acknowledgement of the contributions and history of BAME societies.

The Camden Black Parents and Teachers Association (CBP&TA) was formed and it got a lease on the centre underneath Camden’s Cheriton housing block in 1998.

The centre broadened its focus to helping disadvantaged families from across Camden in recent years. Its founder, campaigner John Oke, died in 2019, aged 85.

Haverstock councillor Alison Kelly said: “It’s complex, but it’s really really sad what has happened to the Caraf Centre. “It’s a real pity for John Oke and they put so much into the centre.”

A Town Hall spokesperson said the council was meeting with trustees yesterday (Wednesday) “to discuss the organisation’s decision to suspend and close its services while also working with parents to find alternative spaces for their children”.

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