'We're absolutely delighted': arts charity Community Focus secures its future in Barnet

Times Series: Director of Community Focus, Tim Balogun, (centre) with Charles O'Toole and Maham Anjum at Friary House in Friary Park. Director of Community Focus, Tim Balogun, (centre) with Charles O'Toole and Maham Anjum at Friary House in Friary Park.

An arts charity that supports hundreds of people with disabilities has secured its future after being served a shock eviction notice last year.

Community Focus was given less than three months to leave the artsdepot in Nether Street, North Finchley, last March, sparking fears the charity would be forced to close.

But after consulting with lawyers, and with the help of Barnet Borough Council, the charity managed to stay at the centre.

Now Community Focus is celebrating after signing a 20-year lease with the authority to take over the first floor and part of the top floor at Friary House in Friary Park.

Last night, the council’s cabinet resources committee agreed to spend up to £90,000 to adapt the 19th century building to make it suitable for the charity, which runs a variety of art projects for more than 1,500 people, many of whom have learning or physical disabilities or mental health issues.

Speaking to the Times Series, director of the charity Tim Balogun said: “We’re absolutely delighted and very excited about the move. Friary House is a magnificent building and the potential is huge. We'll now have an inspiring place to run our services until at least 2034.

“All Community Focus wants to do is look to the future. What happened with artsdepot is in the past, and we’re going to a space that’s far bigger, that suits our needs far better and has great transport links.”

Community Focus has been running for more than 30 years and as well as running services in-house, also has an outreach service providing art opportunities to care homes and churches across the borough.

It also runs short breaks, providing respite for carers and families looking after children with disabilities.

Mr Balogun, who has worked for the charity for seven years, added: “Some of our service users were worried about the move because they don’t like change, but we’ve been taking them on outings to the park to get used to it and to see the building. We’ve geared them up to it, and now they’re really excited and want to be a part of it.

“Now we’re looking to consult with local people to see what they think we can do to embellish the services we provide in the community.”

People can have their say about what new activities and projects they want at Friary House including anything from children’s pottery parties to sculpture and life drawing classes.
To have your say email Tim Balogun at Tim.Balogun@communityfocus.co.uk or arts coordinator Lili Barcroft at Lili.Barcroft@communityfocus.co.uk

Community Focus, which will contribute £10,000 to the refurbishment, plans to move into Friary House in July.

Speaking about the charity's departure from artsdepot, Tracy Cooper, artsdepot's chief executive, said: “We have agreed mutually acceptable terms with Community Focus concerning their future beyond artsdepot. We hope they will continue the good work they deliver for the local community from their new premises.”

Councillor Robert Rams, cabinet member for customer access and partnerships, said: “I’m delighted we’ve now reached this conclusion, which will support arts in the local community and bring Friary House back into full use as a vibrant community asset.”

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