Issue 34— January 1996
Jericho centre: walls to tumble
Jericho's Community Centre in Canal Street is due for a facelift. Users argue that its rooms are small, dirty, and expensive to hire. Now plans are afoot to renovate it.
The centre was built at the end of the last century as the Church Institute for St. Barnabas. In 1980 there was a move to sell it, but as the vicar Fr. Michael Wright told the Echo, "I felt the best thing would be to persuade Oxford City Council to refurbish it for community use."
In 1982, the Council spent £75,000 doing just that. The parish then leased it to the Council, who in turn handed over the running of the building to the Jericho Community Association. The centre is financed by letting the offices on the upper floors. Since then the rooms have been used by a variety of groups, from bingo to ballet, but not to everybody's satisfaction.
Beryl and Eddie James of Whitworth Place, for example, believe it is far too small. They set up the Over-60s Club in 1993. This meets twice a month, providing an opportunity for people to get together to hear speakers and take part in a wide variety of activities. The club started out in the community centre, but when membership grew they had to move the meetings to Grantham House. Eddie James says: "The facilities at the community centre were, and still are, totally inadequate. There's not enough room. You simply can't call it a community centre." Beryl James adds: "There's nothing you can do with it. The main downstairs room is occupied by a playgroup so it's nearly always in use. The cafe room is far too small, and there aren't enough seats".
Another critic is Wendy Gray, of the Jericho Rejects dramatic group. "We tried to rehearse there," she said, "but it's too small and too dirty, so we had to start going to a friend's house and are now at a pub in town. It needs pulling down and rebuilding. We have been told that there is no new money or new land. But other places have a new modern centre. Why not Jericho?"
Not everyone is so damning. Janet Davies runs a nursery there. She says: "It's a great little place but it needs a lot doing to it. It hasn't been painted since it was opened." The centre has no bar because of the risk of taking custom away from the local pubs. That, says Janet, should change: "A lot more people would book it if there were a bar. A local pub could stock it so they would not lose business."
One of the current administrators is Mary Mahabir. She questions the charging policy. "Why should members of the community pay to use their centre?" She is also clear about what she thinks should be done. "If you could knock it down and then build a new centre with a hall on the ground floor for the use of the community, and bedsit flats or sheltered accommodation above, that would be the best solution."
Father Michael Wright is Chairman of the Jericho Community Association. He accepts some of the criticism, but rejects the argument that it is too expensive. "We undercut any other community centre and have always had special Jericho rates." But he does agree that the size needs to be looked into.
At the recent Area Committee meeting, Councillor Phyllis Starkey made it clear that the Council had no money to build a new centre, but it was proposing to renovate the building. These plans, which include knocking down walls to create a larger room downstairs, should shortly be available at the centre for Jericho residents to comment on.
Tim Handley, St Barnabas