London’s ITV news reported today that a sizeable protest took place outside Southall Town Hall in West London because the building is to be acquired by a ‘religious organisation’ which was it did not name.
So I did some digging and discovered that Ealing Council, owner of the building, had agreed to grant a 250-year lease to the Visha Hindu Kendra Temple Ltd.
One of the protesters interviewed by ITV expressed his anger that a popular “secular space” used by a variety of organisations in the area would now be lost to them.
A council spokesman said the local authority was strapped for cash, and the money gained from the disposal of the Town Hall would be used to fund other services.
Among the protesters were members of Southall Black Sisters which claimed in this report that the building was to be sold to a hotelier and the the trustees of the Hindu Temple on Lady Margaret Road.
Our concerns are part of a much wider anxiety about the privatisation and sell-off of key public spaces and community services in Ealing that have come to symbolise inclusion, support and assistance such as Southall Police Station and Ealing Hospital.
These spaces are central to the work of many community groups representing the most vulnerable sections of our society who otherwise would not have access to knowledge and information or the opportunity to participate in community events.
The demise of democratic and secular spaces will only exacerbate the isolation, inequality and marginalisation that is felt by the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities.
As one of our users, a survivor of domestic violence, recently said: ‘it feels as if the local authority is trimming the feathers of a bird and then telling it to fly’.
In a February 2 letter to Ealing Council, SBS’s Pragna Patel said that it “strongly” objected to the sale of the property to:
A religious organisation that has no track record on enhancing community participation, equality and cohesion.