A community woodwork centre in Highgate Newtown, northwest London, may have to close as soon as January if more funding is not found. The closure of the centre could threaten a ground-breaking scheme to integrate woodwork into the curriculum of local schools.
Ricky Jefferson, who runs the woodwork centre, delivered a stark warning earlier this week over the state of the centre’s finances. “We seriously do need funding because otherwise we will close,” he says.
The warning comes as the centre is initiating a ‘first-of-its-kind’ collaboration with Brookfield primary school, which has begun regular woodwork sessions for year two students at the Highgate Newtown Community Centre on Thursday afternoons.
Becca Evenhuis, year 2 teacher at Brookfield, was full of praise for the programme. “It’s lovely seeing them outside a classroom,” she said, enthusing that the children “come back really excited”. “Pupils who are physical learners have a real chance to excel.”
But last week Jefferson, who receives no income from his work at the centre, spent £90 on dust masks and £165 on tools. All came out of his own pocket – an unsustainable model – but he can hardly bear the thought of the centre closing down. “I can’t just stop,” he says. “It’s not just me now. It’s took me 20 years to get where I am now.”
The cash crisis is only the latest blow for the woodwork centre, after promises by Camden Council to build Jefferson a new workshop have suffered repeated delays.
First planned to be completed before the summer holidays, the opening of the centre was pushed back to September, then October. Jefferson emphasises his gratitude towards the council for their financial support, but now thinks it will be “close to Christmas” before the new centre is finished, and – while he doesn’t know for sure the reason behind the delays – speculates that Brexit-related uncertainty may be to blame.
“Anyone would be mad at the moment to take on new building contracts”, he says, pointing to the vast number of imported materials that are required for such a project. Uncertainty around tariffs simply makes it impossible to plan costs for any kind of construction work.