A LONG-STANDING Irish club in north-west London is set to close this month after losing a year-long battle with the Catholic Church to remain in its current venue.
St Joseph’s Social Club in Wembley has been operating since 1974 and has about 400 active members, the majority of whom are Irish.
But despite a 42-year residency in its premises on Empire Way, just a stone’s throw from Wembley Stadium, no formal agreement on a tenancy was ever agreed with the building’s owners, the Catholic Diocese of Westminster.
St Joseph’s, which has been described as a “lifeline” to the ageing Irish community in the area, is set to close in June when the landlord evicts them.
“We haven’t had a meeting with anyone from the Diocese to explain why they are evicting us, we’ve only been dealing with solicitors,” explained committee member Tom Brophy, whose wife Patricia is the current stewardess of the club.
“We were given a three-month eviction notice in March of last year and contested that so we’ve been fighting it since then but this is it, this is our final month.”
The building has proven to be a popular venue for Irish events – it regularly hosts funerals, communions, confirmations and weddings.
St Joseph’s also raises money for charity regularly, with the committee estimating that in the region of £500,000 has been raised over its 42-year history.
Mr Brophy estimates that about 60 per cent of the Irish pensioners who use the club live alone, meaning St Joseph’s is a major part of their social lives.
“They might as well be saying ‘it’s my ball and I’m taking it away from you, you can go home’,” Mr Brophy added.
Though the Diocese of Westminster owns the land and building on the property, a gentleman’s agreement was reached in the early days of the social club whereby the club members had use of the building.
This means that the social club has no legal entitlement to the building – but the committee has been fighting the eviction on the basis of the contributions the club makes to the local community.
The Diocese retained the car park, with which it charges for parking during match season at Wembley Stadium, and Mr Brophy told The Irish Post that the club has contributed “at least £200,000” to the parish, along with the regular charity drives it runs.
One of the organisations that avails of the social club is the Brent Irish Advisory Service (BIAS).
Its director Mike McGing told The Irish Post that the weekly tea dances it runs are continually popular and that losing the centre will be a blow to the elderly Irish community in north-west London.
“We’ve found new premises in Cricklewood where we can hold the tea dances but I know some of the people who come along won’t be able to travel far,” he said.
“The people who come along are all over 70, we’ve even got some over 90, and they are out dancing and it’s a brilliant social setting for them.
“I was speaking to one woman last week who’s in her 70s and she’s got several mobility problems and she told me she won’t be able to come to the new venue.”
“They last met us four years ago and had a sit down with us but they haven’t even done that this time,” Mr Brophy said.
“The way they’ve handled this is all wrong.
“Without that building, our club is finished. We have nowhere else to go.”
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Westminster told The Irish Post:
“The group currently using the premises is running a social club that is unaffiliated with the parish, in a manner that is not consistent with the charitable aims of the parish and diocese.
“After many years of attempting to engage with the group to establish a formal agreement to enable them to run the social club independently, as there has been no suitable engagement on their part, they have been formally asked to vacate the premises.
“Following the court judgment, the group has formally notified the diocese that they will voluntarily give up possession of the premises by the end of May.
“Although no final decision has been made on the use of the premises, it will be for the direct benefit of the charity, in alignment with the mission of the charity.”