An art centre used by hundreds of people is under threat as the council plans to convert part of the building into offices.

Community groups were told last week they would be unable to hire first-floor rooms at Dugdale Centre at Thomas Hardy House, Enfield, from the beginning of September due to Enfield Council's plans to turn the space into offices for its children and family services.

More than 1,600 people have signed an online petition against the plans.

The campaign on was launched last Thursday (March 5) by Emma Rigby, founder of community site Love Your Doorstep.

Ms Rigby said: “My biggest criticism is that the council have done all this behind closed doors and no consultation has taken place or transparency of the agenda has been published. The council have mentioned that this move will grant them £500,000 to spend on vulnerable children in the area, though it is unclear where they are going to get this money from.

"It is Love Your Doorstep’s job to keep people in the area informed about what is going on, we are a voice for the community and feel strongly about preserving this important community hub.”

Groups that will be affected by the council’s plans include the Enfield Poets group, which has been at the centre for the last eight years, and the Young Talent Academy, which is attended by more than 150 children aged 3-18.

Anthony Fisher, who runs the Enfield Poets society, said: “The Dugdale Centre is a convenient venue for us as it has lifts, toilets and is easily accessible from the station.

"The centre allows for people from all areas, not just Enfield, to come together. We don’t know where we can move the group to once we are denied, though I do think that the group will not be as diverse and the venue will not be as convenient to get to.”

Regan O’Mahoney, who runs Young Talent Academy, said: “Our students love coming to classes and attending each week. Their parents use the café downstairs and provide much-needed business for local shops and businesses.

"Some of the children that attend our classes are young carers who have no alternative for where else they can go. We’ve also had students who have come to us mute, and after some classes open up and start to talk.

“The impact of these plans will be devastating for us, for parents and for the children themselves.

"We built the business up from nothing and we are all so emotionally invested in the company. We were also planning to move some of our other classes on a Monday to the Dugdale Centre. But now our future is uncertain.”

The council said it has contacted the organisations which currently rent space in Thomas Hardy House to allow them six months to find suitable alternative premises.

Children and Family Services staff are currently based at Charles Babbage House, in premises on the Claverings Industrial Estate, and in Triangle House, Palmers Green. The first floor of Thomas Hardy House will be reconfigured to provide office and conference facilities for children's services.

Enfield Council’s cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Rick Jewell said: “Ofsted’s inspection of our children’s social care service told us that the most effective way of delivering a high-quality service was through the delivery of a hub model. That is what these plans deliver.

“Before I became a councillor, I volunteered in the Youth Offending Service for almost two decades. So I know first-hand how bad the conditions are at the Clavering Estate and not fit for a Youth Offending Service.

"The first and second floor office space at Thomas Hardy House will allow our youth offending team to move to a modern office environment in a well-connected town centre. It is only right and proper that these services should work out of a well-equipped and easily accessible building so that our staff can provide quality children and family services. I passionately believe in providing the best possible care and support to them.”

At present, four community groups rent rooms at Thomas Hardy House.

The rooms hired at Thomas Hardy House currently generates an income of approximately £100,000. But by bringing the Children’s Hub into one space, the council will avoid paying approximately £350,000 for office space they do not use.

Cabinet members approved the plans on Wednesday (March 11). The existing café, museum and Dugdale theatre will remain at Thomas Hardy House and be accessible for residents.

To sign the petition against the council’s plans, visit: