Community Centre Period
After the dissolution of the Greater London Council the site was transferred to the Lewisham Borough´s Housing Committee. They earmarked the site for re-development and planned to build single and two persons’ dwellings. However, many local people were anxious to safeguard the ‘complex’ as a facility for the estate. On 25th July 1977, Norman Smith (a local councillor) and 37 local residents met to decide the future of the Halls and together they suggested proposals for the management of the Halls as a community facility. This group were later supported the Downham Forum, Downham Residents Association and a local Community Association. They all joined forces to oppose Lewisham Council’s plans to clear the site for re-development.
The campaigners jointly lobbied the Department of Environment for consent to use the money assigned for housing to be allocated to the development of the Centre.
The pressure group cited that there were over 210 vacant local council houses near the site whereas the redeveloped site could only cater for 34 persons’ dwellings.
Additional support also came from the Regional Council for Sports and Recreation in their “Regional Recreation Strategy Plan”. In the Plan they had concluded, “although larger centres are needed, the most cost effective means of remedying the substantial deficiencies over the next few years are to be through the spread of smaller localised low cost facilities.” In other words, the type of facility offered by Wesley Halls would be ideal from their perspective.
By the time the Borough´s Executive Committee took control of the situation, the Manse had been unoccupied for nearly five years. By 1981 the Manse became dilapidated and badly vandalised. On 14th October 1981 the Council´s Housing Committee agreed to demolish the Manse and on its site built offices and a car park . Those offices were later occupied by the Neighbourhood Housing Department and in July 2000 the Housing Department withdrew from the premises and the pre-fabricated building was boarded up. It stayed boarded up for over a year and following refurbishment reopened for office space.
Fortunately, the pressure groups succeeded in saving the Methodist Church and the Halls from being demolished. The derelict Methodist Church was finally converted into a Sports Hall. The Sports Council contributed £40,000, which was match funded by the Lewisham Borough Council. The Inner London Education Authority contributed a further £4,600 for the installation of showers bringing the total cost of the conversion was £84,600.
On Sunday 11th October 1981, at 2pm, the Sports Hall was officially opened and from thereon the sports hall started to function.
In the succeeding years the Halls have supported many activities. The following is a list of some of them:
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Islamic School, a Christian Sunday School, Badminton Club, Luncheon Club, Legal Advice which was staffed by volunteer solicitors, Adult Education Institute Keep Fit in Retirement classes, Dog Training Classes, Lewisham Sea Angling Club, Mini Stock-car Racing, Goudhurst Secondary Support Unit for disruptive children, Councillors Surgeries, Tae-Kwon-Do (self-defence), Pensioners’ Club, Play leadership Association, Labour Party Ward Meetings, Solvent Abuse Help line, Youth Clubs, Lewisham’s Under Fives Forum, Alcoholics Anonymous, Lewisham Volunteer Bureau, Italian Society meetings, Majorettes, Ballroom and Latin Dance class, Keep Fit and Relaxation classes, `NACRO’ (National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders) placements , the Community Service Project run by the probation service, Wednesday market, the Downham Young People’s Business Centre was set up through the Youth Service at Wesley Halls, summer play schemes, slimming clubs, children’s dance classes, aerobics, circuit training, Brazillian soccer, line dancing classes, pensioner´s club, yoga, health groups, playgroups, women’s group, Councillors’ surgeries, ´Youth Diversity Challenge´ organisation (sponsored by Lewisham Borough) who offer alternate education for young people aged 14-16 who for one reason or other have been excluded from mainstream education, ´Lifestyles Southern Team´ a full time project for people with Learning Disabilities and Youth Club.
Many of these groups and organisations still remain operational at the Centre to date.