Chestnuts Community and Arts Centre’s development was an example of strong, committed community involvement working in collaboration with Haringey Council during 1980s. Initially, a small group of local people came together with some young community artists with the dream to transform a derelict large house located within Chestnuts Park. This was my local park where I used to take Tom our dog for a late night walks. The old house used to appear out of the darkness. I thought it would be a good centre for local people to come together. An advert appeared saying there was the possibility to do something with the house. I got involved from the start and became Chair in 1981 until I returned to fulltime work in 1987 and the Centre opened.
During the development there were over 150 local people involved , as well as a paid development worker and later more paid staff. In those days there was also Haringey Community Development Unit and we worked closely with them. The commitment was exemplary, with regular well- attended meetings and sub-group meetings taking forward specific issues. There was always diverse representation and local people worked well together. We were determined Chestnuts would be a local resource for community and arts activities.
There were many twists and turns along the way including the old house being struck by lightning and it was demolished; a decontamination unit (if there had been gas attacks during the WW2) which had extra thick walls and the deep foundations were too expensive to demolish and so formed the basis of a new-build low cost new development. We worked closely with architects. A large green roof was spanned across the decontamination unit and the designated site. These challenges influenced the internal design of the building. We made it clear to the architect and council officers that the space was not for lots of offices or large private social events. It was for everyone. Some community members wanted a bar and socialising area, others wanted a café space, some wanted an equipped art room and others wanted dance space and youth space. There was much listening to one another and every effort was made to ensure that different groups and individuals’ ideas were considered and incorporated if possible.
We had ambitious plans. The internal space eventually included a youth space, a main hall for events and celebrations, one admin office, a café space; and behind closed doors towards the back of the building a social Bar and toilets. Upstairs there was a dance studio, a large visual arts studio, photographic darkroom, general meeting room that doubled as a cinema, and a small counselling room.
During the development years there were several festivals and some activities started. Of course, not all our dreams were met. However, It was a Community and Arts centre that welcomed local participation and access to meaningful activities for all ages and people from different backgrounds.
Over the years, the centre has been available for community use and has been well-used. The spaces have not always been used in the same ways as originally intended but that does not matter. It has adapted over time to meet the aspirations and dreams of many local people and beyond. It remains a community resource forty years later. It is very gratifying that so many local people were involved with its planning and we got along so well and made sure we were heard and achieved what we wanted. At the present time Chestnuts is managed by the Bridge Development Trust. Many activities are continuing but it is not certain what the future will be. Hopefully, it will soon, once again become a vibrant, welcoming, centre with many relevant quality activities available to our diverse communities living locally.
I am keeping a watchful eye as I am keen it remains a community resource!