If anyone had any doubts about the level of support the bid to save Bridge Park had from the local communities of Stonebridge and Harlesden they will have been dispelled this afternoon when people turned up in their hundreds to pack the Centre's hall and hear about the campaign.
Feelings ran high as the issue was put in the context of the struggle black people have had, not only in this century and the last, but for centuries before. The words of Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley were recalled as speaker after speaker pledged to defend what had been won for the community back in the early 80s when riots were taking place elsewhere.
People listened attentively as Jay Mastin, Strategic Head of Bridge Park Community Council (BPCC) outlined the legal success the organisation had won through the Land Registry, putting a stop to Brent Council's sale of the site to an off-shore developer with a conviction for fraud. Much of the case will rest on the protective Covenant that Brent Council persuaded the GLC successor body, Bromley Council, to annul. The Council is going for a summary judgment to remove the stop claiming that the BPCC had no interest and no standing in the case.
Legal assistance in such a complex area does not come cheap and the campaign, which has no political or religious affiliations, is busy fundraising and may in the longer term need up to £100,000 to fight the case - but this is over a site worth millions.
Jay took on rumours of corruption in Bridge Park head on, asking members of the audience to put up their hands if they had heard such rumours. Quite a few hands went up as he persuaded people to put it out in the open. When he asked if such rumours should meant that the Council should go ahead with the development the audience bellowed a resounding, 'No!'
The need for young people to have such a centre and the importance of education was a theme taken up by several people. Against the background of knife crime and educational failure young people needed a place to motivate them and where they felt safe. At the same time the community was urged to put aside its differences, take on responsibility and come together for the sake of the next generation.
Towards the end of the meeting, Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central, who had been in the audience, was asked where she stood. She said she had been meeting with BPCC, sometimes in public meetings, sometimes private, which she couldn't disclose. When she said that the Council had sent out thousands of consultation letters but had received only 50 responses, there were cries from the audience thay they hadn't seen them. She urged everyone present to make their views known so that the Council was aware of the stremgth of feeling in the community.
Shaka Lish, Green Party candidate for the Brent and Harrow constituency at next year's GLA election, was also at the meeting and said afterwards:
Brent council have behaved appallinglyand no better than a bunch of greedy crooks. If they think they can rip out the heart of Stonebridge community, they have underestimated us. We don’t want their visionless plans. We want our plans that serve, nourish and enrich our communityThis was the biggest public meeting I have ever attended in Brent and it is clear that Brent Council faces a campaign that means to fight tooth and nail for its heritage.