Irish Government grant was key to rescue of Irish centre in London

Mon, Nov 19, 2012, 00:00

The current centre in Hammersmith is to be replaced by a HQ with 24 apartments

Two years ago, dozens of supporters of the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith filled the benches of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, unhappy with plans by the Conservative-controlled body to sell their home on Blacks Road.

The sell-off plan was part of the council’s bid to balance its books, but an offer from the council to sell the building to the centre filled few with confidence that they could stay in a building that had been their home since 1995.

Visited by presidents and taoisigh, the Irish Cultural Centre has provided much of the cultural heartbeat of the Irish in Britain, from Brendan Mulkere’s fiddle lessons to céilí-dancing classes, and was a meeting place for an older generation of emigrants.

A brighter future now dawns. On St Patrick’s Day next year, the curtain will fall on Black’s Road. Soon after, demolition will begin, followed by construction of a glass-fronted headquarters near the busy junction in Hammersmith.

The keys to revival have been a £500,000 grant from the Irish Government, along with a deal between the centre and Shepherds Bush Housing Group, which will take the lease on the 24 apartments to be built on the upper floors of the new building.

Government money

The Government’s money was the key, says the centre’s chairman, Jim O’Hara, who has spent much of the last two years on the rescue bid.

“It really gave a big boost. At that stage we did not have a deal with anybody.

“It wasn’t an easy decision for them to invest over here, but it allowed us to go to other people with credibility. It made it easier for us to do that,” he said, though £250,000 still needs to be raised.

Last week Hammersmith and Fulham Council unanimously granted planning permission for the project, leaving the centre free to buy the freehold over the next few months.

“This is great news for us and also for the Irish community in Britain,” said O’Hara.

Welcoming the planning approval, the chief executive of the Shepherds Bush Housing Group, Paul Doe, said the 24 apartments would “provide much-needed homes for families in the heart of Hammersmith as well as providing a new lease of life” for the centre.

Despite the passions aired against them at that meeting two years ago, Hammersmith and Fulham Council now earn plaudits for the “co-operative spirit in which they have worked with us”, said O’Hara.

Now he must turn his attention to finding the rest of the money.

“I will be going to talk to Irish companies and individuals who have done well here. The situation was once black, but we are now able to think about a new future,” he said.