By Sharon Payne
Chat’s Palace is a community space situated in a wonderful Victorian library built in 1913. The building is used for an amazing variety of events and activities designed to appeal to all ages and interests. Manager Candy Horsbrugh, the only full time member of staff, is full of enthusiasm for the building and its role in the community since the library closed in 1976.
Despite funding difficulties the space, which took on charity status in 1981, hosts barn dancing, exhibitions, workshops, youth projects, club nights for teenagers, live music, comedy nights, darkroom hire and tuition, karate, traditional music tuition, dance classes and even a knitting group for older people that they are hoping to encourage younger people to come along to.
Candy is proud of the mix of independent and home-grown projects that are hosted and her vision is for a truly inclusive local space where people, whether from the local estate or the more gentrified areas will feel they are welcome and belong.
The financial side of this is difficult to achieve as the space only receives government funding for activities aimed at helping primary school children, although Candy is excited that their success in this area means they will soon be able to expand the idea to include teenagers.
Unfortunately the funding has not kept up with demand, which has in fact dwindled as government cuts have taken affect. Candy only has one part-timer to help her in the office and other staff, such as cleaners, bar staff, an operations manager and a technician, come in to work as and when needed.
Alongside council funding, Chat’s Palace charges groups to use various spaces in the building and the licensed bar, which opens alongside evening activities, brings in more unrestricted profit – money that can be used in any way that the charity sees fit.
Rap artist Ben Drew (aka Plan B), who grew up in East London, has invested time and money to help Chat’s Palace succeed with his charity Each One Teach One, which gives youngsters the chance to plan, organise and run live youth-band nights. Candy says the chance to prove what they can do empowers the children and would like to use this model to get kids involved in acting, photography and fashion design.
Ben attended a recent youth night in order to watch local kids enjoying the event. The youngsters were blown away to see him there. Candy said: “The kids’ faces were a picture and Ben himself really seems to understand what we’re trying to do here.”
In the future, Candy hopes that increased revenue will mean that they can advertise their space and activities along with marketing it to the local community. She would also like to host more community talks such as the recent one on stop and search law as well as the opportunity to put on regular weekly events so everyone, for instance, knows Fridays are live music night.
However, without extra funds there can be no fund-raising events, and with no fund-raising events there can be no extra funds, which is a real loss to the locals.