Former Nello James Centre in Whalley Range

Whalley Range residents seek clarity on future of Nello James Centre after plans submitted for new homes

  • Redevelopment of former Nello James Centre sparks concern among residents
  • Residents feel ‘left in the dark’ after receiving no updates despite promises of a new community centre
  • The View has submitted plans for the redevelopment of the historic building

A plan to build 35 new homes at the former Nello James Centre has caused concern among Whalley Range residents.

Actress Vanessa Redgrave gifted the Nello James Centre on Withington Road to the community as a social hub and education facility.

After the centre closed over 12 years ago, it fell into disrepair and attracted anti-social behaviour.

The history behind the Nello James Centre

Originally named Walton Cottage, the building served as a private home from 1887.

The British Red Cross used the building as an auxiliary hospital between 1914 to 1916 and owned it until 1971.

The Walton Cottage Education Trust purchased the site from the British Red Cross with funds provided by Vanessa Redgrave.

The Nello James Centre was named after Cyril Lionel Robert James, a Trinidad-born historian, political activist, and leading figure in the pan-African movement.

The centre hosted activities such as a nursery, family parties, and African dance classes.

Community concerns

Kiesha Thompson, a Whalley Range resident, wrote a poem on the Nello James Centre after the BBC commissioned her for National Poetry Day.

Kiesha attended the centre when she was younger for various activities and described it as a ‘hub for the community’.

She reflected on the fond memories she created at the Nello James Centre and how ‘upsetting’ it was after it became derelict.

Former Nello James Centre in Whalley Range
Residents felt ‘heartbroken’ as they watched the building being left to ‘rot’. Photo Credit: Rebecca Mills

Kiesha said: “It’s so unfortunate the amount of people that the Nello James centre has chewed up. So many people have tried to engage with the building and ended up angry and depleted.”

Many Whalley Range locals shared their frustration as multiple campaigns took place in an attempt to save the building.

In 2015, the local community tried to purchase the centre but was unsuccessful.

Kiesha said: “It is quite frustrating as many people tried to save it by doing multiple campaigns, yet it just it just seems like there’s a lot of bureaucracy with the centre.”

Former Nello James Centre in Whalley Range
Kiesha’s poem “One of Me Stood Up” is a poignant tribute to the Nello James Centre. The line, “Those placards? Call them my visitors out on the streets fighting for me,” captures the collective strength and solidarity inspired by the centre. Photo Credit: Rebecca Mills

Another resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I went to the Nello James Centre when it was a youth club. It’s now a spot for the homeless and drug users, it’s tragic.”

Sale of property

The Walton Cottage Education Trust sold the property in January 2020 for £850,000 with a promise to create a new centre in Old Trafford by September 2020.

Fly tipping in Whalley Range
The planning application stated that the new development would cause ‘some harm’ to the surrounding Whalley Range Conservation Area. Photo Credit: Rebecca Mills

Patrick Sheridan, senior developer for property company Views, which submitted the planning application for the site, said: “The Walton Cottage Education Trust agreed to reinvest any profits from the sale back into local community projects.

“We have spoken to and written to the Walton Cottage Education Trust, but up to now they have not been able to provide definitive information on their future plans.”

The trust lists providing care and education to children under school age as one of its charitable objectives.

The Northern Quota has contacted Walton Cottage Education Trust for a comment.

New housing plans for Nello James Centre

The View developmenrt company has held consultations to share plans with residents and listen to community feedback.

The plans retain the existing original building which dates to the late 19th century.

Mr Sheridan added: “We are mindful that when 136 Withington Road was the Nello James Centre, it provided a fantastic service for the community.”

Former Nello James Centre will b e turned into new homes
The plans consist of 13 one-bedroom flats, 18 two-bedroom flats, and four mews houses (two two-bedroom and two three-bedroom houses. Photo Credit: Rebecca Mills

He said the homes were ‘much needed’ homes in the area but added that the company is open to exploring ideas on creating a ‘lasting tribute’ to the Nello James Centre.

Residents agree that more homes are needed but stress that they should be ‘affordable’.

Kiesha said: “I would support the development if it were social housing, but if not, then it’s just another thing that speaks to gentrification and leaving local genuine people behind.”

Fallen trees and rubbish have recently been cleared from the site.