A personal account and call to action. Corrections and comments welcome!
In February 2007, secret collusion between community centre bureacrats and unelected council officers came to light dramatically when it emerged that the Council were planning to shut the club down - at the request of the Community Association (which runs the centre)! Rather than talk to the Social Club committee about the problems they had with the club, they went behind everyone's back to try and seal the fate of the club before support could be mobilised. They failed. A flurry of last minute activity - packed emergency meetings, letter writing campaigns to councillors, petitions etc - bought the club time to sort its act out and a last chance to stay open.
With the threat of closure, the authorities clearly had the club over a barrel and proceeded to issue all manner of demands - everything from handing over financial control to installing CCTV on the building. The club gave in to almost every request and many a compromise was made.
A new committee took over, and through a huge amount of patience and hard work proceeded to rebuild the club; it became safer, more organised, was redecorated and gradually began paying off its debts.
Fast forward to the present day and changes in the attitude of the police may finally finish the club off for good, trampling all the work done over the years by countless volunteers. See, the club has also historically been a place where (shock! horror!) cannabis was smoked. The police had always turned a blind eye to this aspect of the club's culture and there was an unofficial understanding that it was convenient for them to continue doing so. In any case the February crisis and the smoking ban ensured that people stopped skinning up in the bar, though of course those that want to can always smoke outside in the street.
A few months ago the policy changed dramatically; sniffer dogs patrolled bars and pubs all along Cowley Rd, and the club was raided repeatedly, with some arrests taking place. The police wanted to be seen as 'tough' on drugs and were willing to bully their way to that reputation.
Now they have threatened that unless the Social Club turn its alcohol licence over to a single named individual (whom they can then persecute individually as they choose) thus ceasing to be a members-run club, they will use their influence to ensure the entire community centre has its licence revoked.
The Community Association, led by Sarah Lasenby (who it seems has always wanted a more sanitised, middle-class-friendly bar) went along with this, and despite attempts at compromise and dialogue by the social club, gave us 28 days notice to leave. To be fair to the Community Association, they can reasonably claim to have been given little choice by the cops, at least if they want to hold onto the licence in some form or another - and it's clear the centre would collapse without the ability to hold events.
But they *could* have done things differently. They could have worked with the club to try and find a solution instead of rejecting their attempts. They could have kicked up a fuss when first threatened by the cops, contacting local councillors, newspapers, and community centre users to point out what was happening. In the ensuing controversy, the cops might have been forced to back down. The way to stop a bully is to stand up to them and to shout loudly for others to help you, not to give in and hope they will go away. Sooner or later the same forces may come after the community centre as a whole, and they need to be confronted sooner rather than later.
But after February 2007 we are used to such breaches of solidarity from the Association, and we have to be clear that the main culprits are the cops.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
1) Come to the club's AGM this Saturday (29th) at 6pm in the bar (East Oxford Community Centre, Cowley Rd). Doors close at 6.30, and everyone gets a free drink at the end about 7.45pm. We need everyone's energy and ideas to talk about what we can do.
2) Contact your local councillors to let them know if in your opinion the Club is a safe and friendly place; whether it improved during 2007; and whether it would be better off run by the EOCSC committee or by a franchisee. Contact details are here:
You might want to ask them to get the police to clamp down on the big powerful venues that are the real source of Cowley Rd's late night problems instead of bullying small community outfits.
3) Watch out for news of a special emergency Community Association meeting to hold those responsible accountable for their recent actions and try and reverse the decision.
4) You could also contact the social club: 01865 640059 email@example.com to offer your practical support and join if you aren't already a member.
5) Contact Sarah Lasenby to ask her to overturn the decision to kick out the social club, and to work with the social club to try and keep the club open:
Oxford OX4 1HU
Ultimately we can only secure the long-term future of the social club and spaces like it by re-asserting community control over East Oxford itself. It's *our* club, it's *our* community and those are *our* streets. We should keep reminding ourselves of that! It's all part of a wider struggle against capitalist gentrification of our spaces and culture, and they have to be fought every step of the way.
Another account of recent events that has circulated:
So as far as I understand,
Despite fulfilling ALL the criteria outlined in an ACTION PLAN last year by THE POLICE and THE COUNCIL....
at the TIME, ENERGY AND PERSONAL EXPENSE of the Social Club Commiteee membership and supporters who are all local VOTERS which included completely redecorating the whole space, bar and cellar and managing to clear all the debts left by the committee from years ago in ONE YEAR !.....
and DESPITE the fact that the Social Club is now running the BEST it has EVER been run.....
and DESPITE fact that there is a FULLY FUNCTIONING MEMBERSHIP WHICH many HUNDREDS OF LOCAL VOTERS Have subscribed to for 08/09.....
THE POLICE simply do not want this UNIQUE INDISPENSIBLE COMMUNITY RESOURCE which is run BY THE COMMUNITY FOR THE COMMUNITY to stay open.....
And that they have SUGGESTED to the Association (whic runs the building) the unless they abolish the social club, the POLICE will SUGGEST that the LICENCE for the ASSOCIATION will NOT be renewed either.......
AND as event s are the bread and butter life and soul of a community centre (By the People for the People) the Asssocialtion will go bust and the building will become another great white elephant like like so many others run by a Council appointed (ie unelected) manger (probably Sajid Malik from the Asian Community Centre) who will decide what is allowed to take place in the building from which the Council will recoup ALL the income....
(in this lovely rejuvenated building redecorated by unpaid labour...)
OR they will simply sell it off for more student housing aor another STARBUCKS as the property alone is worth millions - which means the end of FUSION and RAP and OX POTS THe OXFORD BEFRIENDING NETWORK and the CLAIMANTS UNION - and affordable use of the space by the local community.