England's Raheem Sterling asks Brent Council to let him save his childhood community centre in Stonebridge
PUBLISHED: 12:15 22 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:31 29 January 2019
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England football player and "Brent boy" Raheem Sterling has approached council chiefs to set up a football academy at the controversial Bridge Park site in Stonebridge.
Representatives for the Manchester City player, who grew up on the St Raphael’s Estate, attended a meeting at Brent Civic Centre on Monday last week.
Enquiries were also made over buying the land, which is currently the subject of a high court battle between community and council.
Mr Sterling has made no secret of his support for the community with a tweet in December that said: “@brentcouncil need to answer this! Why are my team continuously getting no response, when I’m trying to help the community (especially the kids) – whilst the council are still trying to sell off a key part of my childhood; Brent Park. Can someone answer this pls?”
Following the meeting, Mr Sterling’s representatives said: “The council are not prepared to negotiate as Raheem has been given alternative locations [to set up the academy].”
This is denied by Brent Council’s leadership, which says it needs more details before it can make a decision.
Mr Sterling’s people added: “Bridge Park is a part of Raheem’s childhood, so naturally it would be important to him. Raheem would like to be able to give back to the community, and would also like to help the kids that had similar issues to him as a youngster who aren’t fortunate enough to have the same support mechanism he had.
“He would like to create opportunities to break into the professional game via his academy as well as a learning facility – sports and learning, additionally to what they may or may not be receiving.
“He believes that what’s on the land is for the community and should remain that way.”
Brent Council has asked the High Court for permission to sell the land on which Bridge Park sits, with a hearing set to take place next month funded by public cash.
Two years ago, the town hall approved a conditional land sale to Stonebridge Real Estate Development Ltd, a subsidiary of Luxembourg-based General Mediterranean Holdings (GMH).
Hoping to halt the sell-off, community group Bridge Park Community Centre (BPCC) applied to the Land Registry to put a restriction on the site’s disposal, a matter that – after being objected to by Brent and then referred to a tribunal – remains unresolved, pending the High Court hearing.
Cllr Muhammed Butt, Brent Council leader, denied the town hall was unwilling to negotiate on Bridge Park. He said: “It was fantastic to speak to Raheem’s representatives on Monday and we are very keen to hear more details about Raheem’s idea for a football academy in Brent.
“Raheem is a Brent lad, just like myself, and we’d love to work closely with Raheem on his exciting idea especially if it can improve the fitness and life chances of young people in Stonebridge and Brent.
“We want to work with Raheem and his team, but we need to know what the idea and vision is. Until we sit down and discuss what it is they want, any suggestion that we have said no or we want to block his idea is incorrect. We want to work with him so that he can achieve his vision.
“We are ready to actively support Raheem to look at Bridge Park and if needed to look for other sites for his football academy.”
Cheryl Phoenix, of BPCC, said: “It’s fantastic that Raheem, who left his community to be a professional footballer, sees that this asset should be left in community hands. We want to work with Raheem to save this building and make sure it stays in the community and to support his vision for an academy as well as other activities that can take place supporting young people. It’s a huge space – everyone can fit in there.
“Raheem lived down the road from where I still live and is still part of this community. Kudos to him for even considering us. Come down to the End, bruv, and join us on this journey.”
The Black Child Agenda founder, whose son was stabbed two years ago, added: “I hope the judge sees that we as a community are sick and tired of being bullied by corporate interests.
“Right now Bridge Park isn’t being used as a community building as [...] it’s upwards of £95 an hour to use the big hall. [Brent] are deliberately pricing people out so they can say it’s deterioriating and the community aren’t using it.
“We invite the community to come down to the court with us on February 27.”