By Faye Wasilowski.
The future of an African Caribbean community centre in Toxteth is an uncertain one, since Council funding terminated in 2012, and plans for new housing on the plot are have been discussed.
Completed in 1976, the centre was officially opened by the Bishop of Liverpool, the right Reverend David Sheppard. Since then, it has been left to deteriorate, after its official close in 2013.
(Protest banners hang on the walls of the community centre.)
When the centre was first opened forty-two years ago, it had its own football and cricket teams, with cricket being played on the newly built courts, at the time.
In addition, the centre was notorious for an annual carnival, which united the community together. This building provided the community with a safe space in which they could host events such as birthdays and weddings.
The future of the community centre is now an uncertain one. There may be plans for it to re-open on the same site as part of a development of more than four hundred new homes. It is understood that the land is still owned by Liverpool City Council, but property developers, the Elliot Group, have been drawing up proposals for new housing on the site, alongside a replacement centre.
The Elliot Group were unavailable for comment at this moment.
Recently, the members of the community centre have been working together to reopen and use it to congregate and celebrate their culture. Every week, food is prepared with, drinks provided for all those involved.
Music is also a huge part of the community centre.
Walking around the centre, there is still a ferocious sense of community spirit. Banners, which have reportedly been removed by the Council twice before now, protest for the centre’s future, and the acknowledgment of the community’s history. One read: “We will honor our own history; we don’t need or require your approval!”
This is the sad reality of what abandonment and neglect can do to a community.
The community believes that the plans for a rebuild of the centre would be damaging.
Mersey Mash spoke to Carl Williams, a member of the community centre since it was first established.The area that had been recently cleared had been previously home to rough sleepers.
He spoke about the work that had taken place since the reopen.
Mr Williams said: “We only did this when we were sure that the homeless people had somewhere to go. We asked them when they were ready, we would start clearing the area. We were going to move them inside (the community centre) because there is already a homeless man living there. They said that they already had somewhere to go.”
This is not the only area where homeless people have stayed. Around the side of the community centre, there was a container which Mr Williams said some homeless people has previously used for shelter, before moving on to another site.
(One of the areas surrounding the community centre where rough sleepers had stayed.)
He continued: “We think someone inside the building has got in touch with people who can help them. We would never just kick them out.”
Mr Williams also explained what the centre’s plans were for the area which was recently cleared. “If everything goes ok, the plans for this is a community garden. We would make it nice, and put a couple of benches in there for people to sit on.”
Mr Williams added that the council have left the centre in a “dangerous” state.
Liverpool City Council were contacted for comment, but did not respond.
No official application for planning permission has been submitted, but the Council say that discussions are continuing with the developer and the board of the African Caribbean Centre, formally known as Merseyside Caribbean Community Centre.
Banners that hang on the walls of the centre depict the ongoing protest for it to stay in the hands of the community. One emotive banner read: “Oldest black community in Europe but without a Caribbean centre.”
Every Saturday 1pm-4pm, a demonstration is held at the centre. This is a chance for people to get together, share food and drinks, and listen to music in a safe environment.
Speaking to Georgio Navarro, he explained what the community centre meant to him, and how the Toxteth area has got a bad reputation.
Mr Navarro also said: “West Indies or Caribbean people have been the ones most neglected in Liverpool. There is no where for them to go and express themselves or their culture.”
Mersey Mash also spoke to Freddy Tonkmor, a member of the community for many years. He spoke about the legalities of the fight to save the centre.
The community continue to fight for the right to celebrate their culture in a building that has been their sanctuary for more than forty years.
The centre can be contacted through their Facebook Page.