Fri, May 31, 2019
As I sit to my desk on the afternoon of my final day at Castlehaven, I return to the moment it all began at the Neighbourhood Centre office on the junction of Malden Road and Prince of Wales Road in Dec 1984, where I was offered the role of Community Development Officer with the Castlehaven Community Association. I had been interviewed by a panel of trustees who had established the charity to serve the ‘educational, recreational and social needs’ of children, young families and older residents it the Castlehaven ward of Camden.
My first location in my new role was at a desk in the ‘Interchange’ on Dalby Street (where the Talacre Community Sports Centre is now). Interchange came under the auspices of an innovative American community activist called Ed Burman – it was a cutting edge and exciting place to be in those days. I learned a lot about community development and that with hard work, enthusiasm and energy almost anything was achievable.
The Castlehaven trustees soon identified The Old Piano Warehouse as a potential community centre and the work began! From a roofless building in Jan 1985 we raised money to convert the derelict site into our first community centre. We opened with a summer playscheme in August 1985. Castlehaven quickly went from strength to strength with under 5’s ‘drop-in’s’, after school and school holiday projects, youth projects, intergenerational, social history and older people’s activities. We soon grew out of our lovely little building – we needed more space!
With growing confidence, we campaigned for use of the southern site of ‘the tarmac’ on Castlehaven Road. We removed the tarmac and six foot brick built perimeter and internal concrete planters and built a community centre on the site of what now is our Littlehaven Community Nursery. We turned the area ‘green’ and made it safe for community use. We were very proud of our brand new community park and community building!
So now we had two buildings, a youth centre and a community centre! Where to next? The northern side of the site was a much more difficult matter! It was a multi-level odd shape with lots of nooks and crannies with burnt out seats, mountainous piles of dumped rubbish, huge internal planters and brick built perimeter. It was a hive of anti-social behaviour that was inaccessible to residents. Developing that took much longer! We had to negotiate with Camden acquire the site and achieve a tenant swap in a couple of railway arches to create our ‘des res’ storage area. We also had to negotiate with Railtrack to remove a pre-war ‘potato yard’ and restructure the boundary to give us a big enough space to create a sports pitch. And of course, we had to get planning permissions and raise funds to completely redesign the site. But we got there – slowly we created our community park and sports facility!
Getting between the community centre, youth centre, sports site and community parks became dangerous, especially during the after school and holiday activities for local children. So next we lobbied for a permanent road closure of a section of Hawley Road that traversed our various sites. Our campaigning was successful and helped create the ‘shape’ of the Castlehaven Open Space that we are all so familiar with.
Our most recent development has been our amazing Horticultural Hub on the junction of Hawley Road and Hartland Road. This wonderful little environmental project has been created from another area that had fallen into urban decay that attracted anti-social behaviour. Still in its infancy this little haven offers all kinds of wellbeing activities to residents and those suffering with a complex range of issues.
And now it’s time for me to go. The timing is perfect! Castlehaven is about to embark on a brand new journey. Tricia Richards, the new Castlehaven CEO, has been working with residents to redesign the northern site community park to challenge the rise in anti-social behaviour over the past couple of years. Tricia has also been working with users, residents and staff to reconfigure and refurbish The Haven Community Centre to enhance delivery of services to young families and older people. As most of you will know, Tricia has been part of Castlehaven for the past 18 years – I couldn’t be leaving my legacy in more capable, competent or committed hands! I wish her and her team nothing but success and fulfilment for the future.
So here I am…. After 34s year, 4 months and 28 days I have arrived at my ‘Great Escape’ I look back with both pride and humility at the evolution of the ‘Castlehaven Open Space’ – it really is rather wonderful isn’t it? How did we do it? It was easy! All it took was the hard work, enthusiasm and energy of lots and lots of people! From staff past and present who have given way more than they’re paid for; 1000’s of volunteers over the years that gave their hard work, time and support in a myriad different ways; from small local to huge international companies who offer both physical and financial support; local and national politicians; council and governmental departments; infrastructure organisations, delivery partners, funders, benefactors, film & pop stars – and even royalty! What an amazing bunch you are and have been over the years. What a privilege it has been to work with you all. Thank you for your help and support with my perfect job! I will miss each and every one of you. I will miss Castlehaven, but I will especially the people, the fun, laughter and (sometimes) tears – it, and you, will forever have a huge place my heart!