Way back in 1976, something began to stir at no. 222c Belsize Road, Kilburn. The centre looked very different back then – we had no kitchen, Belsize Room, garden, disabled loo or toy cupboard! But with the introduction of several regular community activities including a playgroup, older person’s lunch club and an Alcoholics Anonymous group to the building, Abbey Community Centre was born. Hundreds of meetings, workshops, drop-ins, summer fetes, race nights, discos, tombolas, seaside trips, piano lessons, jumble sales, coffee mornings, ESOL classes and IT sessions later, Abbey Community Centre is the buzzing hub of activity, friendship and support we know and love today.
We’re the home of an extremely popular low-cost crèche and soft-play drop in, the long-established South Sudan Women’s Skills Development and Henna Asian Women’s Groups, regular ESOL, Taekwondo, sewing and piano classes, and a thriving over-50s programme consisting of the time-and-skills-sharing network, Community Time Camden, and CHAPs, a dedicated older men’s group, and finally two successful home befriending schemes for those less able to get out and about.
Through these projects, Abbey Community Centre and its partner organisations support hundreds of people in the Kilburn community every year, offering resources, advice, activities, friendship and a helping hand to those in need.
We thought it was high time to celebrate our achievements, and what could be better than a massive party??
On Saturday 11th June, we took part in the nationwide Big Lunch organised by the Big Lottery Fund, adapting it to become our Big BIRTHDAY Lunch! At least 150 local people came to help us celebrate, armed with plates of food, tombola prizes and big smiles. Putting on lunch (not to mention entertainment, speeches, a video, tea and coffee and a recycled-plastic bird-based treasure hunt…) for such a number was no mean feat so it was lucky that we had a crack team of volunteers and contributors.
We welcomed people in the best way – with tea and biscuits – plus some top-quality coffee kindly donated by Starbucks on the Kilburn High Road. We were serenaded by the Lauderdale Guitar Society guitar players and guests purchased their all-important tombola tickets – fab prizes were donated by Cocoa Bijoux and the Railway Pub in West Hampstead, for which we were v.grateful. Little ones got their faces painted by resident artist Simone in the crèche, people admired our birthday sculpture, mosaics and recycled milk-bottle birds in the garden, and learnt about Abbey’s illustrious history by looking at a timeline exhibit put together by our volunteer Megyan.
Everyone gathered together in the hall to be welcomed by our director Lindsay Richardson and to hear some brilliant speeches by former trustee and our local MP Tulip Siddiq, chair John Foley and centre users Kanchan Pandya and Emma Whitbread.
My personal favourite quote was from Kanchan, who said ‘Abbey is my home from home.’
We were very lucky to have a moving short birthday film made for us by Anna Bowman of Cotleigh Studios. To see the film for yourself, click here. Thank you Anna!
Thanks are also due to our RE-CYCLE-ART group here at Abbey, who made some wonderful birthday mosaics and a teacup sculpture for our birthday. Here’s Simone doing the ‘unveiling’!
All the excitement meant we were hungry for lunch. We were lucky enough to have the brilliant Camden Voices choir perform for us as we ate. They did some fantastic songs including a Michael Jackson Medley and a beautiful rendition of ‘Hold Back the River’ – lots of very talented people in that group! Thanks to the choir for creating a wonderful party atmosphere.
Here’s our fabulous 40th Birthday Cake made by Community Time Camden member Pam. (Her hat says ‘Pam the Cake Lady’!)
Closing time came round far too quickly and it was soon time to hand out our remaining balloons, issue tearful farewells and clear the whole place up! Again, without the help of our volunteers we would probably still be cleaning up a week later so thank you so much to you all.
Thanks again to everyone who came, photographed (especially our volunteer photographer John), filmed, sang, donated (special mention for Olswang and Marriott Hotels for their generous contributions and Oscars for the balloons), performed, made speeches, brought food, lent us instruments (The Piano House on Abbey Road) and transport (Maurice and his van!), baked cake, built sculptures, cleaned up and generally helped to keep us organised – you’re all stars.
Happy Birthday to us!