Centerprise is a multi-purpose
community and arts centre in the
heart of Dalston, London.
It is a centre of life long learning at the hub of a vibrant multi-cultural, multi-faith community which actively participates in our range of arts, cultural and social activities.
Governed by a Council of Management (CoM) whose members are elected annually at an Annual General Meeting of the company’s membership. The current membership are, Helen White (Chair), Richard Sosu, Michael Daniel, Alieu Faal, Saidu Sessay and Joseph Nartey
We run one of East London’s oldest and most famous community bookshops. Increasingly, writers are emerging from our Literature Project with manuscripts and prizes that are being taken on by top publishers and agents. We are also behind WordPower – Europe’s biggest black literature Festival & book fair.
Founded in 1970, by Brooklyn-born African-American Glenn Thompson and colleagues, Anthony Kendall, Erika Stern, Margaret Gosley and others, Centerprise has served as a model for similar centres in other countries, and the organisation continues to draw in users and participants from abroad, and all sectors of the local community. The project has has played a strategic, central role in the social life and arts in Hackney and East and North London as whole.
Scarcity of local and central government funding in the second decade of this millennium has tested the managerial capability of its current management to ensure its survival through cultural initiatives with an economic edge. Thanks to the Centre’s indefatigable Chief Executive, Emmanuel Amevor, who became its first Centre Director in 1994, when the collective system of management was replaced with a hierarchical one.
Our bookshop stocks the largest collection of books by black authors as well as works by local writers. The Centerprise Literature project continues to run Creative Writing Courses despite withdrawal of funding by Arts Council England, London since 2008. Our Youth Project continues to contribute to the assist the socially excluded young people with drama and arts projects as well as our Supplementary School.
Word Power, Interntational Black Literature Festival, founded by Chief Exceutive, Emmanuel Amevor with colleagues, Andrea Enisuoh, Donna-Marie Glashen, Jacob Ross and trustee, Narelle Holland in 2007 continues to attract writers, academics, historians, authors, etc from all over the world to its festival in the UK annually.
The Restaurant, originally a Coffee bar has become a haven for fine Caribbean cuisine with its taste above the rest and regularly hosts birthday parties, weddings and other functions by the local Dalston community.
Our Restaurant walls continue to provide much needed gallery space for local artists to showcase their work
Between 1997 to 2008, the Centre was the organiser of Hackney Mare de Gras, a carnival and Street parade which was founded by the Centerprise. This festival now known as Hackney One Carnival has been taken over by Hackney Council.
Centerprise serves very disadvantage members of the local community by providing a range of integrated facilities and services which is not readily available elsewhere. Focus is on personal development and helping to build social skills and confidence in a segment of of the population that has traditionally been marginalised or ignored by society.
Every ethnic group is served by one or more of Centerprise’s provisions. These include, Africans, Asians, Black British, Caribbeans, Turkish/Kurdish. White, etc
THE EARLY YEARS
The unique concept that Centerprise represents was originated by Glenn Thompson and with his colleagues in 1970. With the support of trustees Nancy Amphoux, Christopher Cornford, Robert Peacock, Margaret Gosley, Hyla Holden and Bernard Simons, they initially set up Hoxton Cafe Project in the 1950′s. It was an experimental cafe catering for groups of young people who might be considered socially excluded and whose needs the existing youth clubs did not meet. The Hoxton Project closed in 1969, found a more sophisticated re-incarnation in a community organisation with a commercial base, representing a conventional shop front to the local community ‘but would have its own trading routine and dynamics’. The first annual report (1978) describes the ideological background to what was then a daring , ground breaking initiative. ‘Prior to the beginning of the 1970′s, involvement in local politics or local voluntary organisations was seen as marginal even if good-intentioned means of promoting social change. Political action lay firmly within parliament, local government, and trade union movement , and local politics tended to be seen as merely as a springboard for national influence. Yet outside these confines lay street politics, housing estates, life on social security … Inspite of the post war boom and the days of you ‘you never had it so good’ poverty had not been eradicated. The inner areas of large cities .. were largely unaffected by national affluence … and Hackney was a prime example of this.’
The Research Division of of the Department of Health and Social Security had – only the year before – plotted twenty three indices of social stress. When the figures were ranked Hackney emerged as having the highest degree os stree overall, with the lowest household incomes of all boroughs. In 1975, 25% of all primary school children were receiving free school meals.
An ageing population reduced health service, outward migration of indigenous, white population in their thirties and forties and inward migration of Irish, Jewish, Caribbean, African, Turkish, Greek and Asian communities remain important features of the cultural, political and economic profiles of the London Borough of Hackney to this day. Centerprise therefore had its roots and its justification in a context where, historically, social deprivation and an absence of real political intervention in the well-being of the population, threw up a number of urgent social problems that had to be dealt with by the community itself. ‘Housing in particular became an issue on a scale not seen since the broken promises of of 1945. … From bill;boards and newspapers pathetic figures in crumbling houses stared at us national campaigning charities were formed . … Alongside this ‘spilling over’ .. was the growth of ‘counter culture’, the Black movement and the Women’s movement. The focus of political struggle changed dramatically, and new forms of political action emerged: squatting groups, community newspapers, ‘alternative magazines, black groups, nursery groups, women’s groups proliferated’ It is correct to say that Centerprise, if it were to be true true to its to its definition as a community organisation that sought to ‘engage with needs, demands and possibilities that were not included in programmes of parliamentary of parliamentary politics or not directly allied to industrial struggles’ the project had no choice but to be involved with these issues from the very start.
Also from the very start, the centre would adopt the features that have made it such a unique resource over the past 42 years. It was decided that, behind behind its commercial commercial facade should lie a range of range of provisions and support for any member of the community who enters and engages with Centerprise. In fact the name, Centerprise was coined by a very impressed journalist from the Economist, Dudley Fishburn, who later became an Member of Parliament, describes the ethos of the organisation very accurately: the fusion of two hitherto opposing notions of a community centre based on commercial enterprise.
Centerprise’s early undertaking to take on the entire community in order to’ expand curiosity, build self sufficiency and independence and enable people to learn new things and become conscious of their place, role, value within their community’ amongst other aims , made a strong enough impression on the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) Working Party to encourage them to fund the centre.
Thus on the 1st May, 1971 Centerprise was officially launched. That initial support was from ILEA was in no small way due to the efforts of Area Youth Officer, John Townsend.
A previous annual report (1992) referred to an article in the 1971 Bookseller – the book’s trade leading publication – which noted the opening of Centerprise and predicted its demise within months! That was decades ago.
From the very beginning, Centerprise defined its approach as being non directive. The twenty two people who had come together to create the centre saw the project as an ‘enabler’, facilitating the activities of other individuals and groups by providing space, information and knowledge, contacts – the basis of a network that was to be mutually supportive and self motivating. The Hackney Playmobile and the Kwame Nkrumah School were two of the early results of this approach. Remarkably, Centerprise has never departed from kits original objective: ‘to promote the benefit of the community resident in the London Borough of Hackney and Greater London by providing facilities in the interest of Social Welfare, Education, Arts, Literature with the object of empowering the community, allecviating poverty poverty and improving the conditions of life through the promotion , maintenance, advancement, access to information regarding all aspects of education and the arts.’
Over the past decades, our services have affected the lives of ten and thousands of people, locally, nationally and internationally. We have shaped and contributed to the shaping of social policies and attitudes in Hackney and beyond and have influenced major national debates on issues relating to housing, race relations, immigrations, literature, arts and culture. We have introduced new, sometimes visionary and innovative ways of approaching the community. Long before it became fashionable, in fact from the very beginning of this project we espoused an integrated to our work – one that remains the underlying philosophy of all Black and non-mainstream arts practice today. The basic belief that the ‘arts, youth and community work, social work and education are not separate entities requiring separate institutions, that they are related and interdependent’ has been at the heart of Centerprise’s policies and programming. It has informed the way we work and has served us well over the past decades of our history. Long before the Tory government of 1979 emphasised the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness even for statutory agencies, the commercial demands of our restaurant and book shop have kept our minds and methods firmly focused on the balanced sheets. Over the years, we have published new writers who have gone on to achieve national status, whose work might never have seen the light of day. And the diversity and range of our programming involving all segments of the community are still considered remarkable given our limited resources. Added to the services provided by Centerprise, the enabling role of the organisation should not be underestimated. Centerprise is more than the sum of its total physical parts. We have often played a crucial role in the establishment of the social infrastructure of Hackney. a number of important organisations have had connections and indeed their origins in Centerprise. The early Kwame Nkrumah School and Hackney Play Mobile had their beginnings in Centerprise. So too had our Summer PlaySchemes which led to the Formation of Ever Green Adventure Plyaground in 1973.
The Play on the the Estates Scheme, Hackney Under Fives were all based at Centerprise until 1992.
Hackney Play Association had very strong connection with Centerprise. Lenthall Road Workshop – an arts project that did some excellent work in the 1970s was set up by Centerprise staff. A number of Tennants Associations came out of the work of our Advice Centre.
The mid 1990s saw the establishment of the Centerprise Literature Development Project take over from our long established Centerprise Community Publishing Project as the leading Literature Development Project shortly after the publication of the 43 Group by Morris Beckman.
Centerprise is proud to be one of few community organisations which having evolved within our community, is still deeply rooted in it – a fact which can not be understated since in times of crisis and in circumstances where other organisations would have gone under, it has been this connection with our community that has ensured our survival. Indeed when we are asked to list our achievements over the four decades of our existence, we never fail to include this organisations survival as one of them. We have survived the demise of ILEA – one of the first agencies to give financial support to this organisation. Our previous Reading Centre Project, an adult literacy project was for many years, almost wholly maintained by ILEA through the then City and East London College. We witnessed the abolition of the Greater London Council and the Urban Funding Programme, Rate Capping and the devastating impact it had on local voluntary services; abolition of Section 11 funding; dismantling of Local Authority Race Units; the break up of the Black Arts Sector leading to the demise of of the majority of of leading Black Arts groups in England and the complete overall of of arts funding structure in Britain; the withdrawal of our own funding by Hackney Council for six months and a complete management restructuring during one of our most vulnerable periods in the 1990s, not to mention acts of arson, defacement of our building, break-ins and one physical ‘invasion’ by known fascist groups. Still all this pale in comparison to the support we have had from people we serve, and services we have been able to provide to our users over the past four decades.
136-138 Kingsland High Street, London,E8 2NS. Tel. 0207 254 9632