Campaigners are rallying behind an ‘inspiring’ volunteer and local activist who has to close the thriving community café he helped build.
Community organiser Eugene Callinan was given permission in 2012 by Harrow Council’s then-Labour administration to turn the derelict bowls pavilion in Kenton Recreation Ground, in Carlton Avenue, Harrow, into a volunteer-led place for parkgoers to grab a bite to eat and a drink.
Mr Callinan, of Becmead Avenue, Harrow, revitalised the building with a £10,000 council contribution but on Monday last week the council’s Conservative administration asked him and The Friends of Kenton Recreation Ground to leave the café because the property is to be advertised for competitive tender to lease the building.
The 53-year-old – named overall Volunteer of the Year at 2011’s Harrow’s Heroes awards and a star of one of the council’s How To instructional videos on volunteering – said: “I’m sad the cafe has had to close. It’s popular, it’s a local place.
“I’m going to bid for a lease and if I’m successful I’ll talk to Harrow Council about what I can do.”
Janette Foster, 75, of nearby Carlton Avenue, Kenton, and regular user of the café, attended a rally outside the building on Friday.
She said: “My husband is in a wheelchair and blind, and this café is the only place I can take him where he can socialise and relax as we do not have a carer – I am his carer.
“He also has dementia, so it the only place I can have a proper conversation with people. It just means so much to us, if we lost it, it would be a disaster.”
The Rev David Aplin, of Elmsleigh Avenue, Kenton, and a minister at church in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, said: “This is a community place and the council seem to want to just drive volunteers away.
“If they drive Eugene out, after all he has achieved, it would be very sad.”
The 67-year-old added: “We want more volunteers. It is something we need to encourage.”
The pavilion was used by Kenton Bowling Club until the club closed after the 2008 season due to dwindling membership and an increase in charges from the council.
It was taken over on an ad-hoc basis by the Larches Trust in May 2010 to run horticultural courses for adults with learning disabilities and allotments before the charity moved out and the pavilion fell into disuse.
A council spokeswoman said: “We are extremely grateful to Eugene for the hard work that he and the Friends of Kenton Recreation Ground put into refurbishing this building.
“When this work was first done, the objective was to create a meeting point for the group and public to use on an ad-hoc basis. Last year the friends group told us that they wished to use the site permanently as a café.
“We informed them then that the normal process would be to open out this opportunity to anyone and that this arrangement would be beneficial to whoever holds the lease as it formalises the use of the building and provides security of tenure.
“Where an organisation wishes to run a commercial enterprise from one of our buildings, the standard process is to allow any interested group or organisation the chance to express an interest in doing so.”
Councillor Ajay Maru (Labour), a ward councillor for Kenton West, said: “The café has been run on a non-commercial basis with any money raised being ploughed back in.
“I will be working hard to get the Conservative leadership of Harrow Council to change their minds.”