The Bridge Park Complex in Stonebridge, North West London in the borough of Brent is seen as a monument which projects a sense of pride in the black community where many Barbadians and fellow Caribbean people have lived since the early days of emigration.
Bought in 1982 as a derelict and disused London Transport Depot, the complex was built to a specification which provided excellent facilities of all types for the general use of the black community in the area and beyond its boundaries.
Now 35 years later, Brent Council sees it fit to authorize the sale of the site to a property developer for £30M, 30 low cost housing units, a gymnasium and a swimming pool. It is said that the site is worth £50m.
Great effort is now being made by members of the black community to overturn the decision of the council in the Court. The action by the council is seen as heartless and as capitulating to the greedy clutches of the developers who seem not to care two hoots about the wider repercussions. The moral responsibility of the Council to provide adequate social and educational facilities for young black people seems to have been lost along the way. Make no mistake; we are talking of young black second and third generation West Indians who are, sadly, being stripped of the little they possess. The Indian community is awash with mosques across the borough but West Indians can only point to Bridge Park. These West Indians are the offspring of those Caribbean people who helped to rebuild the country after the war. Is this then a just dividend for the labours?
There is great propaganda and vexation about the matter so I sought a voice from the past to enlighten me on the history of the complex and whether or not a case could be made to halt the proposed sale.
Mr Phil Sealy, JP, MBE, was a member of the Brent Council when the site was bought. His reputation for fearlessness when arguing the case for fairness for blacks is legendary. Sealy said that in 1982, when the venue came on the market, the Council felt it had a duty to provide a centre for the black community where many youths in the area were becoming detached from mainstream activities. The council purchased the property for £3M and spent a further £10M to build the Complex. It was opened by HRH Prince of Wales in 1988.
The now retired Councillor said, “without doubt, the council determined that it was a community project and they invited the Harlesden People Consultative Committee (HPCC) to manage the operation.” I asked if the Council had a long term view in mind and Sealy explained that it was hoped that the HPCC would become a registered charity and later be in a position through Incorporation as a company to accept a hand over of the complex. Sadly, this did not come to pass. There is no doubt that the Complex experienced a chequered history and after allegations that unsavoury forces controlled the operation, the council took over the management.
Sealy said, “this rush to dismantle one of the few things that is associated with black community and excellence is disturbing. The complex was designated a community project and there is a moral and compelling case that it should remain so. In these days of social turbulence among our people, it is important that places like Bridge Park be held available for them to use in whatever legitimate way they feel necessary.”
I have tried on several occasions to get word from the Brent Council on what they perceive as a justifiable reason for their action but, alas, I have not had a response. Neither have I seen a comment from the black Member of Parliament for the area, Ms Dawn Butler. It would be interesting and enlightening to hear their views. Can this episode now be classified as another flight of capitalism at the expense of a lasting legacy for black people?
How can it be that the black people of Brent can be deprived of a facility which was explicitly founded for their benefit because a council appears to want to put profit before the pride of our people? Surely, everything cannot be measured in pounds. Of course, they might argue that they are changing the community but they must be reminded that change is not necessarily progress.
The Bridge Park saga exposes a sad lack of effective leadership in the black community. I can think of other ethnic groups who would not lay back and be tickled by the offer of a swimming pool and a gymnasium. After many years of great contribution in developing the landscape of the Borough of Brent, surely, better is deserved.
Some people put up buildings, other men build monuments. Bridge Park should be a monument to the people of Brent and beyond in the black community of London.
PS : A community group is fighting this case and is asking for donations. Contributions should be sent to www.gofundme.com/bridgepark
Mr Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and Disapora.