Harrow charity evicts school for black children

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The Independent Online

One of the few black-run schools in Britain has lost its David and Goliath fight against eviction to a charity founded by a top public school.

The Tabernacle Christian School, which works with disaffected black children in north Kensington, west London, was evicted from its premises yesterday after a long legal battle with its landlord, the Harrow Club, a charity founded by Harrow public school.

Parents and teachers had staged a round-the-clock occupation of the school since its lease expired in February before it had had time to find alternative premises. They slept in the school for fear the landlords might change the locks if the building was left empty.

Tabernacle specialises in educating young people who have struggled at or been expelled from mainstream schools. Pastor Derek Wilson, the school's chairman, fears the school will have to close unless it can find new premises, jeopardising the education of more than 40 pupils.

The school, which charges £275 a month, had appealed for extra time to find new buildings.

The school was founded in September 1998 by a black evangelical church, offering a second chance for pupils failing in state schools.

After starting with three pupils, the Tabernacle had expanded to take more than 40. Tabernacle pupils do not study towards conventional public exams such as GCSEs. Instead they follow the curriculum of the School of Tomorrow, a Christian fundamentalist organisation that runs schools.

The Harrow Club, a charity set up by Harrow school in 1883 to do missionary work and educate the poor, had refused to renew the school's lease because it wants to use the building for its own community work. It will use the space to expand its recording studios, which give young unemployed people experience of the music industry.

Mr Wilson's wife, Paulette, Tabernacle's headteacher, said the school had searched for new premises for more than a year. She said: "This school is providing a last chance for these children. The closure of this school would be a great loss to these children and the community."

Roger Graham, a sales and marketing manager from Hayes, west London whose son Matthew, three, is a Tabernacle pupil, said he was devastated by the eviction.

He said: "I am very upset because the Harrow Club is destroying something that is so good. The teachers here are fantastic. The development of my boy has been fantastic too. His vocabulary and confidence have grown since he started last October."

Funlola Ojomo, from Edgware, north-west London, had slept at the school for the past two nights in an effort to keep it open. Her daughters Afope, six, and Ife, four, are pupils at the school.

She said: "I think it's disgusting that we have been thrown out into the streets without the children having a permanent building to go to. This is not the way to treat a school that develops the youth for the country."

The school plans to use a temporary site in nearby Notting Hill until the end of July when exams finish.

The school enlisted the support of the Prince of Wales, who wrote to David Elleray, the football referee and chairman of the Harrow Club, to raise the school's concerns. In a letter to the school, the Prince's private secretary, Mark Bolland, wrote: "His Royal Highness admires the commitment and dedication you have to your school."

George Bennett, a spokesman for the Harrow Club, said the school had been told last June that its lease would not be renewed because the building was needed for new community projects.

He said: "Harrow Club is just relieved that this has come to an end as it is putting other projects in jeopardy."