OpinioN8

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Community Consortium needed to rescue derelict British Legion Building

I still believe that the old British Legion building in Elder Avenue could provide a worthwhile community facility, especially if used imaginatively for different purposes at different times. I even went as far as posing in front of thebuilding with a fistful of money for the Hornsey Journal. The existence of a type of limited company designed to fulfil such a purpose adds to my optimism, so here are some further thoughts on the subject.

 

The British Legion branch in Crouch End was based in Elder Avenue, in a building known as the Earl Haig Memorial Hall. The branch closed down about a year ago in August 2010 and the building has been standing empty ever since. At least one offer to buy it has fallen through. I think it is a shame that the building should stand empty. A first clean up operation has been needed to keep it looking it reasonable, but the effort required to do this will increase over time and the motivation will wane. Water has already penetrated part of the fabric.

I don't think the building is well suited to purchase by a conventional property developer, for several reasons:

  1. it is an odd shape, having been designed as a British Legion meeting place, suited only to holding meetings and functions
  2. it is not on the main street, so has very little passing trade
  3. it is documented as being a contributor to the Crouch End Conservation Area so changes will not be readily accepted by the planning department
  4. it has been proposed that it be added to the register of locally listed buildings, so will be all but impossible to demolish legally, with a view to developing the site

However the building does have D2 planning use, which covers Cinemas, music and concert halls, Dance, sports halls, swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums and Other indoor and outdoor sports and leisure uses, bingo halls, casinos. 

 This list of uses fits very nicely with what is going on in the area. Crouch Enders have long said they want a cinema - it was one of the most popular responses to the many consultations held about the Town Hall. The tango classes which were held in the hall were popular. Crouch End does not have anything like the Jackson's Lane centre, especially now it looks as though the Town Hall will be largely dedicated to a single user. Zumba and pole dancing classes are currently popular and would fit well in the premises. The running of such events by a community enterprise for the community could not only rescue the building but also tie in with initiatives intended to provide opportunities for the disadvantaged. One local group plans to stage an Arts Festival next year, and the Crouch End Players do not have a permanent base.

So it seems to me that there is scope for some sort of communal purchase of the building, possibly at a price less than the £750,000 currently being asked for it. 

The sort of scheme I have floated before, and which is set out in this Hornsey Journal article, is to find 1,000 contributors to put up £1,000 each in order to cover the purchase and refurbishment. The vehicle I imagine might suit this sort of investment would be a Community Interest Company which is a form of limited company, with special additional features, created for the use of people who want to conduct a business or other activity for community benefit, and not purely for private advantage. Such companies are formally regulated by the Department for Business.

The campaign needed to raise this sum of money would not be an easy thing to orchestrate and a partnership with some wealthier individuals or organisations might very well provide a starting point. If say, a couple of Crouch End celebrities could be persuaded to put their names to it, and offer tens of thousands rather than just one, or perhaps an organisation could put up some cash and immediately commence activities, then the idea may yet be a runner.  

If you'd like to participate in some way then you can get in touch by posting a reply here or sending an email to opinion8@rocketmail.com .

To tempt you further this is a picture of me holding a fistful of money outside the building.

Tags: british legion, community, earl haig memorial hall

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