OAPs’ petition to stop Tower Hamlets Council pricing them out of Raine’s House
- Credit: Vickie Flores
A 90-year-old pensioner is taking on Tower Hamlets Council to stop them pricing out the weekly bingo club she runs from her neighbourhood community centre in London’s East End.
Retired rag trade machinist Sheila Cope and her fellow pensioners have been using the historic Raine’s House in Wapping for the past 45 years.
They have set up an action committee and launched a petition to send to the town hall after being told they’ll have to fork out £30-an-hour to hire a small room plus £40-an-hour for the kitchen if they want to make a cuppa.
The Grade I-listed early Georgian building in Raines Street, off Wapping Lane, is to have a £1.3 million facelift as part of a programme to turn council-owned buildings into neighbourhood ‘hubs for hire’.
“There’s no way we can pay £40 every hour,” widowed Sheila tells tomorrow’s East London Advertiser. “What I take on bingo goes out as prize money.
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“I was told we can apply for a grant to pay for hiring a room—I’d be dead by the time that happens.”
The pensioners always held the keys to let themselves into the building, but have found the locks changed and security guards hired by the council to let them in and lock up afterwards.
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Retired telephonist Denise Denman, 89, who helps Sheila run the Wednesday bingo, said: “The first we knew of the council plans was the locks being changed.
“This is the only entertainment in the area which stops people being isolated—they’d be stuck in their flats otherwise.”
The council says it sent out 700 letters to residents inviting them to last Saturday’s public consultation about the plans—but no-one the Advertiser has spoken to in Wapping had received one. The first they heard about the charges was on the Advertiser website that day.
So a protest meeting is being held at Raine’s House on February 11 at 12 noon to formally launch their petition, which is now online, and set up a delegation to hand it to the town hall.
Kathy Bracken, 70, one of the pensioners who stated the petition, said: “It’s out of order. The club is our social life that brings people together who are isolated.”
The council denies wanting to close Raine’s House, but says “it required essential building works”.
The centre has been run for the past 45 years by retired council parks employee Harry White, 78, until the management was taken back by the council.
He said: “I was told last year we have to get out and was threatened with court action. It really frightened me.”
Even plans for a pensioners’ luncheon club had to be scrapped 18 months ago when the council wanted to charge Harry’s committee £30,000.
Groups currently using the building can continue on their existing terms, the council says, “until the planned and necessary building improvements have been made”. Then the hourly hiring fees kick in.
The pensioners hold social tea dances, coffee mornings and even charity nights to raise funds for St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, but were always charged a peppercorn rate or given free use by Harry’s committee which no longer runs the place.
Sheila Smith, 40 years a member at the centre, said: “I lost my son in the hospice from cancer 12 years ago and this club supported me and my family. It’s the only social outlet we have, so we have to fight to keep it.”
Retired haulier Alan Eadon helped the centre raise money last year for four-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He said: “They are driving out all the groups who can’t afford £30 every hour. All the clubs are gradually closing, like the pubs round here.”
Retired roofer Gerald Montanarini, 71, is one of 400 people of all ages using Raine’s House every week. He said: “Women were crying on Saturday when they heard what the council wanted to do. The mayor is supposed to be for us—but it’s all money, money, money.”
Ron Calcott, 79, accepts the place needs refurbishment with “perhaps a lick of paint, new carpet, double-glazing and some new furniture”, but feels the council’s room hire charges are “over the top”.
Con Callagher, 74, suggested an empty council property in Chandler Street 100 yards away could be used for their new ‘hub’ instead of Raine’s House.
Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs cut the ribbon on the council’s first community ‘hub’ in September just a mile away at Shadwell, with its £40 hourly meeting room and £40 hourly kitchen charges. But critics say the place has hardly been used and is often observed closed in the evening.
He acknowledged that Raine’s House was “a valuable community asset” but that it “needs to be opened up for the whole community”.
He told the Advertiser: “It has been effectively closed off to many for far too long. Mr White’s group will be able to book space there, alongside everyone else.”
Other ‘hubs for hire’ are planned in Bromley-by-Bow, Limehouse and Bethnal Green, following a survey in November which found 74 council-owned buildings being used only for a third of the available hours.
There was “a hotch-botch of agreements and terms of occupation”, the council said at the time. Some groups were paying rent while others were paying nothing.
A town hall spokesman said this week: “Raines House requires essential building works, so we are bringing the centre back into council management.
“The groups can continue using the rooms on their existing terms—until the building improvements have been made.”
That’s when the new hourly charges kick in: £30 for East End residents for a small room, £40 for a multi-purpose space, and £40 for the kitchen. Registered charities can pay £15 for a small room and £25 for the kitchen. Commercial rates start at £60, plus £80 kitchen use.
Raine’s House was built in 1719 as a charity school by wealthy merchant Henry Raine for poor children to get a free education. The original school, now called Raine’s Foundation, moved out to Spitalfields, then to its present location at Approach Road in Bethnal Green. It marks its 300th anniversary in 2019, like Raine’s House itself.