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Hammersmith Irish Centre seeks 5,000 supporters in bid to block sale

Hundreds of people have thrown their weight behind a new petition opposing plans to sell off the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

Hundreds of people have thrown their weight behind a new petition opposing plans to sell off the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

Council chiefs hope to raise around £2m by disposing of the venue, which has been a hub for the borough's Irish population and many other community groups since 1995, as part of a push to pay off debt.

But the decision met with dismay from the centre's managers, who say they were told by Hammersmith and Fulham Council in January last year that their lease would be extended until 2017.

They launched a campaign last week to try to force the authority to reconsider, and hope to gather a 5,000-strong petition, signed by people who live, work or study in the borough, which would force a debate about the centre's future in the council chamber.

Campaign organiser Pádraig Belton said the centre plays an 'exceptionally important' role for the elderly, many of whom are otherwise isolated and alone, and offers a home and meeting place for a range of immigrant communities.

He said: "With Irish immigration to London on the increase, it plays an important role in the settlement of persons newly arriving from Ireland. To sell it would be short-sighted - staffed largely by volunteers, it is precisely an example of any sort of big society, and is exceptionally good value to the local authority."

Hundreds of people have already added their names to a paper petition on the front desk of the Blacks Road venue, and residents and community groups have been quick to add their names and messages of support online.

Fulham resident David Soward said: "We frequently use the Irish Centre as a friendly and good-value centre for holding forums and training days for third sector agencies – which we could otherwise not afford to do. Please leave well alone."

Joshua Martin, director of Theatretrain, a performing arts group for young people in Hammersmith, said: "We rely on venues like the Irish Centre for workshops and shows. Without them we simply could not function."

And Shepherd's Bush resident Michael Wale said: "The Irish community has always had a strong tie with Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush. It is right that Irish culture and history should have a permanent home in the borough. It is obviously part of the much-vaunted big society."

Announcing the planned sale of the centre in June, council leader Stephen Greenhalgh said the authority had to find ways of reducing spending by around £55 million over the next three years.

He said: “We have stated very publicly that our focus will be on selling our assets to protect services. We have to put people before buildings and safeguard as much of our budget as possible for voluntary sector grants, child protection and services for the elderly.”

To see the online petition click here .

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