West Hampstead weaving club at risk of closure after four decades

Kingsgate Community Centre forced to raise fees

Wednesday, 26th February 2020 — By Samantha Booth

Jenny Lewenstein and Liz Lewenstein from the RagBag weaving sessions Camden New Journal 2020-02-26 at 14.57.49 (2)

Jenny Lewenstein and Liz Lewenstein from the RagBag weaving sessions

A WEAVING club fears it could be wound up after four decades due to a sharp hike in charges at the community centre where it holds popular weekly sessions.

RagBag has been left facing the “death knell” after Kingsgate Community Centre, in West Hampstead, took the “difficult decision” to raise its fees from April.

The centre’s association said it decided to increase room, hall hire and storage charges to safeguard its own future.

Jenny Lewenstein, who co-ordinates RagBag, said the class is affordable – at £5 a session – compared to some workshops which can cost between £30 to £40.

She added: “We are not complaining that they are putting the fees up because we can see it needs to be done, but it’s so sudden, we can’t cope with it, we are not that sort of group. I’ve started to look into getting a grant or something but I don’t think we really fall into the right sort of category.”

RagBag currently pays £18 per week for the room, with sessions running for four hours every Wednesday evening, helping crafters hone their skills in weaving, sewing and knitting.

But they say in April this will go up to £27 a session, and then £75 the year after. It has not yet been confirmed how much storage could cost but RagBag, who have to use large cupboards for the special looms used in weaving, fear it could be in the hundreds per month.

Liz Lewenstein, who is a regular at RagBag sessions, said: “The total sudden increase will almost certainly kill the group. Most members will not be able to afford it. If the storage charges were postponed until April 2021 we would have time to look for a solution.”

Centre manager Marie Griffin said in a statement on behalf of Kingsgate Community Association (KCA) that the core funding has decreased by 50 per cent since 2016.

She added: “During this time our costs have significantly increased. This includes having to pay £30,000 each year for our building’s rent. We also have to meet all our costs for our repairs and maintenance of the building’s interior.”

“Rents, repairs and maintenance costs came into effect in February 2016, when KCA had to sign a lease for the building it occupies. We have not been able to meet our annual rent charge. As of 31 December 2019, KCA’s rent arrears were £127,551.78. Due to these reasons, KCA has had to make the difficult decision to increase its room and hall hire charges.

Ms Griffin said: “We didn’t want to introduce full hire increases yet. We knew hirers would need time to think about their future and if these increased charges were affordable. That’s why KCA is increasing hire charges in two phases. From 1 April 2020, hire charges will increase by a marginal amount only.”

Jonathan Simpson

The Town Hall’s culture chief, Councillor Jonathan Simpson, said: “Here in Camden we have made a firm commitment to continue to support the borough’s dynamic voluntary sector, despite the cuts to related funding that councils across the country are being forced to make.”

He added: “Camden’s investment in our local voluntary sector is one of the largest and most long-term packages of support in the country, investing more than £5m, which includes the £2m Strategic Partnership Fund of which Kingsgate Community Centre is a recipient.”

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