Eleanor Botwright to retire after 34 years running the Castlehaven Community Centre
'I have spent much of my life on the Town Hall steps with placards'
17 May, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
AFTER more than 30 years at the helm – and raising more than £30million in the process – a community centre manager has announced plans to step down.
Eleanor Botwright said she wanted to do “some gardening and some golf” when she leaves Castlehaven Community Centre at the end of the month.
Originally from Cork, she told the New Journal: “I went back to where I was born a few years ago and there were direction signs on a pole. One pointed to a place called Camden, the other to Castlehaven. Perhaps I had, subliminally as a child, seen this. From the day I saw the job advertised, I knew it was for me.”
She was first appointed 34 years ago and has been hailed as a community champion, whose work led to her being awarded an MBE two years ago. “We started off here in an old piano warehouse,” said Ms Botwright. “It didn’t have a proper roof – instead, they had used hessian taken from the back of pianos. I started one January and we all huddled around a fire to keep warm.”
What is now a popular sports pitch was a waste ground that people were scared to walk across, and she recalls early attempts at improving the area were not always welcomed.
She said: “We were once offered a new skateboard half pipe. It had been used as a prop for an episode of Jim’ll Fix It and it looked great. We had it put in and when we came back the next day, someone had burned it down. There were a lot of issues to resolve.”
The current Castlehaven building in Castlehaven Road is due for another comprehensive revamp in the coming months with a landscaping project that will re-shape the grounds and upgrade the football pitch.
Ms Botwright had to become adept at fundraising and says she leaves the centre on a firm financial footing to weather the storms of public spending cuts.
“This was a very deprived area with no facilities at all,” she said. “We used a targeted approach, researched who we were going to for grants and made sure we fitted the criteria.”
She added: “Austerity has led to a significant loss of funding for statutory authorities and government departments, but also charitable trusts and other funders lost a lot of money. There is less money to distribute, and more people going after a smaller pot. At the same time, demand for our services has gone up.”
Areas such as older people’s services have seen much greater need – so the centre has looked at ways of raising funds as a social enterprise company. This has led to opening a nursery, and renting out the football pitch.
Ms Botwright said: “I have spent much of my life being critical of Camden Council – going to stand on the Town Hall steps with placards – but since austerity they have shown commitment to the voluntary sector. They have been exemplary. I live in west London and it is a desert compared to what Camden have done.”