History of the Nello James Centre and Walton Cottage

Named after Cyril Lionel “Nello” Robert James (C.L.R James), a Trinidadian historian, journalist and social theorist, history has it that British actress Vanessa Redgrave and Nello James were good friends. This resulted in the building currently known as the Nello James Centre, on Withington Road, being bequeathed by Redgrave through C.L.R James.

In 1967 the venue was a “non-profit social enterprise” used as a nursery, community education centre and printing workshop. It also served several other purposes including dance nights and a community university not just for West Indians but for everybody regardless of race or occupation.

To safeguard and organise the use of the property, a charity was set up in 1971 called Walton Cottage Education Trust. Two years later it progressed to Walton Housing Association and is now known as Arawak Walton Housing Association following the merger of Arawak Housing and Walton Housing in 1994, they are now the largest independent BME Housing Provider in the North West.

Statement from AWHA: ‘Arawak Walton Housing Association no longer have any connection with the Nello James Centre’.

Despite the formation of this board, of the eight trustees most recently known to the public only two remain. This in itself is a problem when dealing with the legalities of the Nello James.

It is alleged by different sources at different times that the trustees have in the past both attempted to raise funds to restore the venue back to its former glory and also that they have refused to sell.

Several people from the local community have in the past attempted to purchase the property but, in one instance, an incident with affiliates of one of the trustees prevented this from going ahead.

It has also been alleged that, after spending money making the property safe, Manchester City Council are effectively forcing the owners to sell  the land because they want their money back. The Council have denied that this is the case.

At the time of going to print, TNT had made several attempts to hear Manchester City Council’s version of events but nobody was available to comment.

Despite the original conditions outlined on the sale notice, “The existing property is considered as a non-designated heritage asset within a Conservation Area, therefore in the first instance we would wish to see the existing building retained as part of any scheme on the site.”, several companies have come forward stating they would knock everything down and start again.

There have been several campaigns and attempts in the past to find out what is happening to the Nello James and, as previously mentioned, also several attempts from many upstanding members of the local area to buy the building but to no avail.

Friday 6 March, all offers for the property will have been received and no more considered.

The ‘For Sale’ sign has caused fond memories to resurface and reignited a passion for a much-loved, well-known community centre, spurring many in to action to save the Nello James. Throughout the first week of March several meetings will be taking place including a meeting at the West Indian Sports and Social Club, Westwood Street, Moss Side and a demonstration outside the Nello James on Saturday. The Nubian Times will keep you informed of updates and new information online.

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