Writer Zadie Smith Hosts Book-reading To Support Threatened Community Centre
BY MANISHA GANGULY
Monday, 28th November: Zadie Smith has backed the campaign against the demolition of the Granville Plus Centre in Kilburn. The White Teeth author was in attendance on Friday, supporting the centre which has been serving the local community through free meals, surplus food giveaways, recycling clothes and children’s programmes for over 100 years.
It was in July of this year that the Brent Council cabinet decided to knock down both Granville and Carlton community centres, which are the only heritage sites in the area. At the event, the writer read from and signed copies of her new book “Swing Time”, speaking about gentrification, the need for public spaces, and her childhood in Kilburn, where she had grown up.
Photo 1&2: Zadie reading from “Swing Time”/ Photograph: Manisha Ganguly
Zadie Smith, who was listed among the top 20 most influential people in British culture in a 2004 BBC poll and winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, spoke extensively about the importance of study spaces, public libraries and community halls. “These are places where your social imagination is made, so you get to meet people who are not like you- class wise, race wise, faith wise. For me the richness of life is taken away, when these spaces are taken away.” In New York, where she lives now, the fight against gentrification is much the same: “With the pressure on housing, there is struggle between private and public spaces: it really is the same situation.”
When asked what inspires her to write at the Q&A that followed, she responded with, “The inability to do anything else. I can’t add, I don’t understand science”, much to the amusement of the audience present. The questions eventually veered towards Donald Trump, and Zadie revealed that she’d “accidentally” written about him in Germany, in an essay due to be published. “I’m excited about the possibility of journalism at this moment, especially because Trump is such a sensitive child when it comes to journalistic scrutiny- this has presented a real opportunity for journalism to have effect.”
Zadie at the book signing/ Photograph: Manisha Ganguly
Copies of “Swing Time” on sale/ Photograph: Manisha Ganguly
The posters for the event/ Photograph: Manisha Ganguly
Leslie Parson (pictured below), Community Organiser and Facilitator, who helped organise the event with Zadie, said about the event, “We knew Zadie was from around here. Someone knew someone who got in touch with Zadie, who graciously agreed because she would be in town.”
“The main outcome of such spaces is for people to get to know eachother. It’s one of the few places where there’s all kinds of people, of all ages and nationalities: Irish, Somalian, Middle Eastern, Iraqi , Egyptian, Irani. There are language barriers, cultural barriers: so its’s nice to sit and share a meal together”, she adds.
Originally built as a Presbyterian mission hall in the 1880s to serve the community, the Granville centre was one of the few places to run free breakfast programmes, meals and classes for children and single mothers in the 1950s. The Granville Youth Service, before it was shut down earlier this year, had served over 800 people, while the Otherwise club, which hosts language and dance classes, currently serves over 60 families. “We need a place to meet, as these are threatened in London because of the housing crisis. The value of public space has really dawned on people”, Leslie says.
The Granville Community Kitchen is run by Dee Woods, the UK Ambassador for Slow Food and BBC Cook of the year 2016. It provides a hundred free meals every Friday for the local community.
Children’s messages to save the Granville/ Photograph: Manisha Ganguly
BBC Food Awards for the Granville Community Kitchen/ Photograph: Manisha Ganguly
Inside the kitchen run by volunteers/ Photograph: Manisha Ganguly
The eating hall: a place to relax and share a meal/ Photograph: Manisha Ganguly
Leslie says that the Council wants to replace the community centres with luxury housing, and has invested in consultants to review the property. However, she insists, “They have no plan!”
Lisa (27), one of the people present at the event, is making a documentary on the Granville Community Centre. “I used to live here for around 2 years. I’ve been to the film nights, free meals, I’ve also volunteered here. When I heard that they might tear it down, I realised how important and special this place is to the area and to me. I needed to do a documentary to help raise awareness.”
Councillor Neil Nerva (pictured left) of the Labour Group said the plans to knock the centres down have not yet been finalised and can be over-turned. “A special scrutiny meeting will been convened on the 1st of December to make recommendations to cabinet. There are two things at work here: one, the local community and Brent Council need to engage in co-production to resolve this, and two, the promotion of public service and public space.”
An online petition has been made available, while a paper petition is being circulated locally by community activists. “We want to save this space in perpetuity. The South Kilburn Trust has given us a lease of 5 years, but we don’t want to have the same fight again”, adds Leslie.
A poster for #SaveGranville / Photograph: Manisha Ganguly