“Two Years on from controversial sale of building, London’s Africa Centre still has no permanent home

“Two Years on from controversial sale of its building, London’s Africa Centre still has no permanent home”

Two years on from the sale of its original building to property developer, Capital and Counties, there is still no sign of a new Africa Centre building in London, and serious questions of governance and communication remain.  That is the conclusion of a report published today by the Save The Africa Centre Campaign, which battled for the charity’s management board to hold a public consultation before selling its only asset, a listed building in Covent Garden.

The building, 38 King Street was the charity’s home for 50 years, and was sold for a rumoured £12 million pounds in august 2012.  Over the course of its life as the Africa Centre, 38 King Street played a leading role as a focus point of African life in London, hosting art exhibition for many now established African artists and performers, and many political discussions including playing hosts to anti-apartheid activists.Many a coup was rumoured to have been plotted in its bar, and it hosted the famous Limpopo Club, one of the first regular club nights playing African music.  

In 2012, following a number of years in which the charity’s status, as well as financial and administrative health had declined, amidst wide concern about its governance, the charity’s board of trustees chose to sell the building, despite a 4, 000 strong petition, which included the voice of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to halt the sale.

No New Africa Centre?

The campaign did succeed in gaining a commitment from the charity’s trustees to acquire a new location in central London. However, the report released today concludes that there is no indication that the charity has acquired, or is making plans to acquire a new permanent home in Central London. It also finds that whilst the funds of the charity are available for the public to view through the charity commission, showing more spending on governance than events programming, there has been no suggestion of governance reform being made at the charity, one of the key concerns for campaigners, who say that poor governance and an out-dated constitution led to the charity’s original decline.

An Africa Centre Building 

Two years on, there is still a strong demand for a physical building called the Africa Centre in London, which would service the needs of London’s increasingly vibrant Africa focused organisations and African communities. In a statement from the report, the Save The Africa Centre Campaign urged the trustees to be open about developments for the charity, and to respond constructively to the report.

The Full Report can be viewed below and downloaded here

A Message From the Save The Africa Centre Campaign: The Africa Centre Report 2014

Walter_Rodney_Africa_Centre

Water Rodney speaking to a packed audience at the Africa Centre, 38 King Street, Date unkown

Dear Friends 

In 2012, you all took part in the Save the Africa Centre Campaign, helping to galvanise a community of support behind a demand for the Africa Centre’s trustees not to sell the Africa Centre at 38 King Street – at least not without public knowledge and consultation.

 When we concluded the Save The Africa Centre Campaign in 2012, we promised to feedback and produce a report in 2014 that would follow up on what has happened since the Africa Centre’s trustees decided to sell.

 Next week, (w/c 31st March 2014) we will publish that report, here, on our blogwww.savetheafricacentre.wordpress.com

 Please do look out for it, and share it widely. We hope the Africa Centre will respond constructively to the report.

We thank you for taking part, we have been truly humbled by the numbers that signed our petition and who sustained their commitment to this cause for the 2 years in which we fought to have the community’s voice heard.

 From the Save The Africa Centre Campaign Team

Dear Supporters: We are formally concluding, thank you and we hope to see you in 2014

Dear Supporters

 After a year of campaigning, we are writing to inform you that the Save the Africa Centre campaign is formally concluding. 

It has come to our understanding that the ‘option to sell’ 38 King Street has been signed.

This has been via the buyer, Capital and Counties.

To date, we have had no communication of the fact by the Africa Centre’s Board of Trustees, but tenants have been asked to vacate the building by December 2012, when the sale will be complete.

 Following the 26 January 2012 community meeting, the campaign requested that a consultative process be facilitated on the charity’s Vision, Governance and Programming before the sale was confirmed. We have received no response from the Board of Trustees.

 Subsequently, in February 2012, the campaign team shared with the Trustees our Draft Vision Document, ‘Bring What You Love’. We have received no response to the document, which we hoped would be a starting point to a shared vision.

The Africa Centre is the home of many shared memories and potential for our diverse communities, both of social events and laughter, and of social change and leadership. In defence of our cultural heritage, good governance and history, a small group of people backed by your voice have attempted to ensure that consultation was undergone regarding the decision to sell: it is our understanding that 38 King Street was bequeathed to the Africa Centre in its widest sense and belongs to all of us. However, the 1961 Governing Document allows a quorum of three trustees to agree to the sale of any asset of the charity, including the building that is its foundation stone.

The letter of the law approves of the sale and nothing can be done to stop it.

We acknowledge the loss of 38 King Street as the most important cultural heritage site for the African Diaspora in Britain.

We acknowledge and are proud of the many achievements of the Save the Africa Centre campaign:

  1. The restraint and prevention of a secret sale for an entire year, without the campaign, 38 King Street would have been sold without any notification of the community in June 2011.
  1. The engagement of over 3,000 supporters, through the on-line petition and Facebook page, and the many offerings of memories and support as documented in Collective Voices. Thank you to all who have worked for, with and supported the campaign through encouraging words, shared commitment and action!
  1. The generation of an impressive amount of media attention about the charity, its importance and its history, including public support from respected figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Yinka Shonibare, Bonnie Greer, and Sokari Douglas Camp, with coverage in the Times, the Evening Standard, the Guardian, the BBC News and the Financial Times, as well as a numerous articles generated by grassroots community voices on the internet. And this after many had forgotten that the Africa Centre still existed. Thank you to all contributors who have made London aware again that Africans have a historic place in the centre of this great multicultural city. 
  1. The reminder to the Trustees that the Africa Centre is a membership organization. Membership had withered over the past decade through lack of communication leaving the Board of Trustees as the sole decision-makers.

(i)                Although the letter writing efforts of a number of former members, trustees and directors demanding an Extraordinary General Meeting of the members did not allow participation to any of the former members, it did ensure that an EGM was eventually held.

(ii)              Although nomination to become new members did not follow an open process, the efforts of STAC ensured that 14 new members were instated at the EGM on 2 June 2011.

(iii)            The AU Group of African Ambassadors have re-engaged with the charity, in accordance with the Governing Document. Prior to the campaign, the current African diplomatic corps had not been made aware that they were key stakeholders.

  1. The opening of space for alternative proposals, and for talented community members to contribute to redeveloping the original site. We thank David Adjaye for his inspiring vision and feasibility study transforming 38 King Street in to a world-class cultural centre. We acknowledge the bravery of Hadeel Ibrahim’s fundraising initiative that raised £3.6 million to a 6 week deadline, and thank her for her patience in waiting five months before withdrawing her proposal due to lack of response from the Trustees.
  1. The publishing of a coherent on-line survey with over 400 participants, which encouraged the Trustees to produce their own survey in response. We acknowledge that the Board of Trustees commissioned a consultation in late 2011, following the delay of the sale, and that the results of this will be incorporated in to their future Business Plan. Without the campaign, the sale would have taken place without these preparations.
  1. The offer of a thoughtful and considered Programming Vision supported by successful cultural contributors, from Afri-kokoa and Open the Gate to Chatham House and the Royal Africa Society and many others. Thank you to all those who contributed to this vision exercise. We hope that it has planted a seed that will take fruit elsewhere.
  1. Most importantly, the re-engagement of the African Diaspora community with the Africa Centre.

We hope that the trustees will learn and benefit from all of the above activities and strongly encourage them to transform their Governance Document so that it is truly representative of the community the charity is meant to benefit, and ‘fit for purpose’ for the next 50 years. Although they have not acknowledged our recommendations, we hope that they will take them on board for the future. The Africa Centre belongs to all of us.

Next Steps

 We recognize that there are alternate actions, including injunction and protest, and acknowledge that many in the community supported these actions at our 26 January meeting; we unfortunately do not have the capacity or funding to pursue these scenarios.

We encourage those of you still interested in taking this forward – or build on the programming and creative ideas that have emerged from the campaign to write to savetheafricacentre@gmail.com  as soon as possible (until end May 2012) and we will connect you with other like-minded community members.

We are so sorry that we were unable to ultimately protect 38 King Street but wish to thank everyone involved in the campaign, both in Britain and abroad, for your solidarity and friendship in this effort.

We wish the trustees luck in their future endeavours. If you would like to keep abreast of the Africa Centre’s development please sign up to join their database.

We aim to reconvene in 2014, at the 50th Anniversary of the Africa Centre’s opening, to establish how the Africa Centre and its trustees have progressed in preserving the legacy of the charity; judiciously utilizing the funds realized from the sale of 38 King Street and maintained the legacy and relevance of the Africa Centre. 

The Save The Africa Centre Campaign Team

 

 Ugo Arinzeh, Chipo Chung, Elizabeth Dudley, Richard Dowden, (in a personal capacity), Susana Edjang, Dele Fatunla, Boko Inyundo, A.J. Kwame, Debbie Simmons, Onyekachi Wambu

 

 (May 2012)

STAC Update: Africa Centre Rising. What you missed

Dear STAC supporters

We would like to thank those of you who attended the Africa Centre Rising meeting last Thursday, January 26th.  We had 124 people register to attend the meeting and, with many more asking to attend on the day, the SOAS lecture theatre was full to capacity. We are truly grateful to you for making the time to be there and for your overwhelming support on the day.


Key outcomes were that it was unanimously agreed by all present that there should be:

(i)     a root and branch reform of the governance

(ii)   a clear and specific business plan that seriously considers alternatives to leaving the building

(iii) a clearly articulated vision for programming

(iv) a moratorium on the sale during this time

Trustee Kaye Whiteman confirmed he would take back to the rest of the trustees the request for a moratorium.

For general context for the meeting for those that were unable to make it, at the meeting start, STAC advised all present that the Adjaye/Ibrahim proposal had been withdrawn during the week of 8 January 2012.  Dele Fatunla read out an email from Hadeel Ibrahim detailing the reasons for the withdrawal: submitted 21 weeks previously to a 6-week deadline and with no decision yet taken, the proposal team believed that consideration of the project was a

disingenuous process to conclude that our proposal was not good enough. We were no longer willing to provide them with political cover for the inevitable sale. I hope you understand our position and I would like to re-emphasise the huge amount of work done by the project team that meant this decision was taken very reluctantly”. 

Dele Fatunla then read out the email he had received on 26 January from the director of the management agency of the Africa Centre, Graeme Jennings:

“… the Trustees have considered all options and the only one that remains viable is the offer to buy a lease on 38 King Street from CapCo. The next steps are to secure another suitable location and finalise the business plan for the future. Both of these are being pursued and hopefully there will be some exciting announcements soon.….  I would appreciate it if you could circulate this e mail to your colleagues

The meeting began with a welcome from the Chair, Onyekachi Wambu.  Nigel Watt, Africa Centre Director (1984-1991) spoke about the Centre’s first director, Margaret Feeney (1964-1978) who passed away at the beginning of 2012.  A minute’s silence was held in respectful remembrance.

Panellists included good governance expert Eric Galvin, artist Sokari Douglas Camp; Kaye Whiteman (Africa Centre Trustee); Dele Fatunla (STAC); Music Promoter Peter Adjaye; Chipo Chung (STAC); Dr Knox Chitiyo (Africa Fellow, Chatham House) and Joseph Adesunloye (Screening Africa).

During the first panel discussion, How can the Community Share in the Governance of the Africa Centre?, key issues outlined by Eric Galvin with respect to governance included ethics, accountability, vision, affinity, integrity, communication, transparency, respect and skills. Dele Fatunla presented a paper “Minimum Requirements for Reforming the Africa Centre’s Governing Structure and Constitution for the 21st Century”.  Africa Centre Trustee representative, Kaye Whiteman confirmed that negotiations with CapCo are continuing and expressed regret over the withdrawal of the Adjaye/Ibrahim Proposal.  He stressed that the trustees now wish to engage constructively with STAC and the community to work towards a shared vision and mutual end purpose of saving the Africa Centre for the future.

The Second Panel, Vision and the Way Forward focused on the importance of programming.  Recognition was given to the importance of location, the prime position the Centre has at 38 King Street, the ‘soul’ in the building that does, as Archbishop Tutu has put it, “clutched at our hearts in a special way” and  holds our ancestors’ history.  Chipo Chung and Peter Adjaye emphasised the sound social capital that is the building itself, the Ibrahim/Adjaye proposal and the unprecedented value that David Adjaye‘s (the architect leading the team behind Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington) redesign would bring to the building.

Bonnie Greer made the closing remarks, outlining possible legal and moral alternative scenarios

STAC would like to formally thank Kaye Whiteman for attending and representing the trustees at this meeting and for the positive and constructive engagement by all throughout.  We also thank Sheila Ruiz for organising the room at SOAS and enabling this meeting to take place.  Enormous thanks also to contemporary African acoustic jazz singer-songwriter, Bumi Thomas, whose poignant between panels performance was so full of soul, a tangible reminder of the arts and culture a thriving Africa Centre should nurture and represent.

We will, of course, get back to you as soon as we hear back from the trustees and have attached , for your information, a copy of STAC’s paper on the Africa Centre and Governance for the 21st Century to the emails to the STAC mailing list and will be publishing it shortly.

Also attached, for your information, are the results released at the end of last week by Portland Communication of their survey which reveals How Africa Tweets.