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OAPs take on Tower Hamlets’ mayor in town hall battle to save their social club in Wapping

PUBLISHED: 15:59 22 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:59 22 March 2018

Katharine Bracken leads deputation of pensioners to Tower Hamlets Council's meeting to save their social club in Wapping. Picture: Mike Brooke

Katharine Bracken leads deputation of pensioners to Tower Hamlets Council's meeting to save their social club in Wapping. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Pensioners turned up in force at the town hall demanding Tower Hamlets Council leaves their social club alone.

Kathartine Bracken tells councillors: Kathartine Bracken tells councillors: "Give us back keys to our social club and leave us alone!" Picture: Mike Brooke

They have been holding social nights and tea dances at Raine’s House in Wapping for 45 years, like 90-year-old Sheila Cope who runs the Wednesday bingo.

But now the council wants to turn the 300-year-old building into a community hub for hire with hourly £30 fees for a small room and similar charge for the using the kitchen, first revealed in the East London Advertiser earlier this year.

That got their anger and a delegation led by pensioner Katharine Bracken, the club secretary, arrived at the last night’s council meeting with a 2,700-name petition.

“Why can’t we have our club as it was?” she demanded. “Our keys have been taken away and we now have to have security to let us in.

Pensioners outside Raine's House in Wapping who picketed the town hall. Picture: Vickie FloresPensioners outside Raine's House in Wapping who picketed the town hall. Picture: Vickie Flores

“Three security guards turned up the first week this happened because they thought there was a ‘rave’ going on.”

It brought laughter from the public gallery, then fury when opposition councillor Rabina Khan heard the pensioners had been “left in the cold” waiting for the doors to be opened.

A neighbourhood centre at Shadwell had been turned into a hub-for-hire in Christian Street last year, but no-one was using it, the OAPs pointed out.

“It’s become a white elephant,” Katharine told councillors. “Why spend all this money on Raine’s House to become a white elephant like Christian Street?

Listed 18th century Raine's House in Wapping. Picture: GoogleListed 18th century Raine's House in Wapping. Picture: Google

“The OAPs including myself will have nowhere to go. It’s one of the last East End social clubs left, where the doors are open to everyone—so give us back our keys.”

Mayor John Biggs wanted to see a community centre remain in Raine’s House, he assured, but the building needed to be put into a good state of repair after years of neglect.

The centre also needed to “get a good management structure in place” after problems including debts such as gas, electric and water bill arrears of £14,000, while no accounts had been produced, he claimed.

The refurbishment would go ahead—but so would the pensioners’ campaign.

Tory opposition group leader Peter Golds said afterwards: “It’s absolutely appalling what’s happened to a social club that’s been in Wapping 45 years. There are 90-year-olds using this building—they deserve support.”

The pensioners complained that the council was “making obstacles” that they had to keep jumping over, but were determined to do just that.

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