Lulu Rumsey meets the chairman of the Fitzrovia Community Centre Ltd to talk about the challenge of running a voluntary organisation in difficult times.

Man cutting ribbon.
Edward Turner (centre) cuts the ribbon to open the Fitzrovia Community Centre.

The recently inaugurated Fitzrovia Community Centre is a welcome addition to Fitzrovia’s wonderfully varied cultural landscape. I met with the organisation’s chairman Edward Turner to learn more about the bright future Fitzrovia has in store.

“We’re still getting ourselves together as an organisation,” he admits, and as such the centre is currently more preoccupied with administrative beginnings.

“But we do have a vision to preserve the character of Fitzrovia and inspire the integration of a fully inclusive community. We want to improve the quality of life for those who live and work in the area. The centre will promote a range of health, recreational and social opportunities which strengthen social links and break down barriers within and between communities,” says Edward.

“The centre can promote cultural and historical events so that people don’t lose sight of the roots of Fitzrovia. We recognize that there are multiple  stakeholders in this community; it is really important that everyone, without exception, feels at home here. We are a community centre for all”, Edward firmly states.

The centre recognizes the array of community organisations already in existence in Fitzrovia and intends to work alongside them. On this issue Edward is realistic: “You have no power when you are divided. When you unite and find common cause, you become very powerful”.

For now though the centre is focused on its beginnings, and developing a strong foundation that will ensure it is able to achieve its vision.

“It’s not something that will happen overnight; it’s a process,” he admits. “Our focus at the moment is getting policies in place, building up a user base, assessing the needs of the community and, of course, ultimately balancing the needs of the community with staying financially solvent.”

The grant which the Fitzrovia Community Centre currently receives from Camden will expire by 2015, a fate that is presumably of considerable concern. Edward is quick to point out that Camden’s £45,000 annual assistance actually accounts only for 25 percent of the centre’s running costs, and as such he is prepared for the steps that need to be taken in the near future. Along with the income generated by users of the centre he hopes to secure private sector funding. “I want businesses and institutions to have a social agenda that includes us”, he stresses.

On the issue of funds Edward holds no resentment towards this government’s spending policies, saying frankly, “it’s an economic reality”. He is candid about the avenues towards private funding open to the centre, which other social institutions lack the option of, and optimistic in their acquisition.

On the issue of the new business improvement district (BID) Edward proffers a balanced perspective. Acknowledging its alarm to residents, he assures us that a BID is not incompatible with the centre’s vision: “It hinges on execution to ensure that it represents all voices,” says Edward.

This is where the Fitzrovia Community Centre offers a forum for voices from both business and residents to be heard. “As with any change a community faces, some will welcome it and others will be disadvantaged. The important thing is to make sure that the voices on each side command equal weight and have a fair hearing. That’s a role for the community centre,” he says.

The Fitzrovia Partnership BID company will be welcome in the new centre, as indeed any representative of Fitzrovia will be. “Big businesses are very well resourced,” Edward explains, “and we need a healthy dialogue with them to help arrive at those objectives that are beneficial to us all. We really do want to work with all the institutions here”.

A resident of the area for more than ten years, Edward Turner has a long history in corporate governance for charitable causes. Formerly involved with the AIDs Treatment Project and Dignity and Dying, he professes, “my experience in those organisations has had a very strong impact on the way that I’ve approached the role of chair.”

His mantra is that if you sort out the corporate governance properly, the organisation will run itself. At the heart of his role with the Fitzrovia Community Centre lies a passionate, hands-on dedication to developing its capability of achieving its goals. “I like the fact that it is a work in progress; I can see it will be possible to make it very effective — that was the appeal to me”.

Under Edward’s guidance the Fitzrovia Community Centre promises to have a powerful legacy for the area. By cementing its distinctive social, cultural and historical identity the centre will allow Fitzrovia to weather the changes it faces.
“London is ultimately a collection of villages. This one is unique and we need to preserve it,” he said.

A variety of activities on offer

The Community Centre will host a variety of activities and services.
Councillor Adam Harrison of Bloomsbury Ward in Camden will hold his surgeries from 6pm to 7pm on the last Friday of every month.

West End Children’s Centre offers “stay and play” drop-in sessions free of charge for children under 5 years old on Tuesdays 10.30am to 12.30pm and Thursdays 1pm to 3pm. There are sessions for babies on Mondays from 1.30pm until 3pm. There is also advice on family therapy and related services available. Contact Andy Robson for full details 020 7439 1578.

There will be live comedy poetry and spoken performance plus open mic spots for ‘locals’; on the second Friday of the month: (14 Sept, 12 Oct, 9 Nov); 6:30pm  Minimum age to attend is 16 and charge is £7.50

West End School of Theatre Arts are an independent performing arts school that offer training in singing, dance and drama taught by professionals on Saturday mornings during term time. 09:30 – 11:00 for children aged from four to seven years; and 10:00 – 13:00 for six to 18-year-olds. Session prices start at £142.50 a term, some concessions may be available.

Italian language courses are on offer. Italian culture, food and people using everyday expressions and simple phrases, courses of 20 lessons start on 17 September.
There computer classes providing tuition in Microsoft Office and other applications. Laptops will be provided. Courses run over two weeks: one day per week at two hours per session), and are available at all levels. Minimum age is 16 years, no prior knowledge required and course fees are £40.

Society Speakers are a not for profit club for people to practice public speaking. Sessions are held on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays each month at 7pm, and finish at 9pm. Members and guests need to be 18 or over. It’s free to come along as a guest to see what we do. Membership is £40 for 6 months membership.

The Dynamic Pilates class is a training regime that combines athletic strength and conditioning training with pilates and cardio-vascular training. Sessions last 55 minutes. Minimum participant age is 16. Introductory offer for £11.00 with additional discounts on block bookings. Drop in classes are £22 per session.

Ashanga and Hatha yoga. Beginners to advanced welcome. Prices from £10 per class. Free trial class for all newbies.

Zumba African dance and exercise. Cost is £6 per person.

Fitzrovia Community Centre, John Astor House, Foley Street, London W1W 6DN
020 7580 8680