The Huddleston: A centre without a centre

Actor and playwright Kieron Wild performs with Emily Falconer. Photograph: Olivia Barber

Youth disability charity The Huddleston Centre has been without a permanent centre since 2019. Last month, it was at risk of closure.

Kieron Wild, a local playwright and activist, was determined to do something about it.

His pantomime, Red Riding Hood and Friends, was performed to an audience of more than 60 people at the weekend, raising over £480.

“This is the result of 30 years’ work and is my big dream,” Wild told the Citizen.

After he finished writing the script in 2017, he knew he would perform the show to raise money for Huddleston.

The pantomime is set in Storytopia, “the land where stories come to life”. When Storytopia’s existence comes under threat, Red Riding Hood and her friends must find the key to save it.

The Huddleston Centre was set up in 1975 by the parents of children with disabilities and runs groups for young people between the ages of nine and 25.

Activities on offer include sports, music, theatre, arts and crafts groups, and sessions to build participants’ independent living skills.

“The Huddleston Centre was a really amazing, supportive place for me,” Wild explained. “It gave people confidence and I could be myself there.”

The playwright was born in Hackney and attended Huddleston as a teenager in the 90s, up until he was 25.

He said this isn’t the first time the centre has been under threat of closure.

“In 1999 we were told the centre might close. There was a demonstration outside Hackney Town Hall. The council gave the centre more money and it was saved.”

Two years later, there was another campaign to save it, and again, the centre’s work continued.

In 2019, “the centre was in trouble again”, Wild said.

Kathleen Cook went to Huddleston as a teenager, and now her daughter attends the charity. Photograph: Olivia Barber

The charity was previously based in The Huddleston Centre, a purpose-built, accessible building in Clapton that is fitted with a lift, hydro pool and soft play area.

Neima MacFoy, the charity’s director, revealed in May 2019 that it was unable to cover the rent and it had to vacate the building.

Since September 2020, Huddleston has been in a temporary location at St Barnabas Church in Homerton, but it is hoped it will move to the Marie Lloyd Centre this summer on a more permanent basis.

MacFoy said the main challenges facing the charity are having a settled space and funding.

“Most funders want to see a space, but without funding, we can’t get a space,” she said.

Kathleen Cook attended the Huddleston Centre with Wild as a teenager and worked there as an adult. Her 13-year-old daughter now attends.

Cook said: “It wouldn’t be Hackney without The Huddleston Centre. There aren’t many places for children to go like that.”

As a parent, Cook said she’s seen her daughter’s confidence grow thanks to The Huddleston Centre.

For Wild, the centre means “listening to people, helping them and wanting them to live good lives”. He thinks Hackney would be a “very boring place” without it.

Cook added: “Anyone who wants to close it should see what it does.”

James Patterson, 21, who currently attends Huddleston, said: “If it was at risk, I’d do my own fundraising event to keep it going. I don’t know where I’d be without the centre.”

He emphasised the importance of the charity having a permanent space: “People can’t feel settled if one year they’re in this place, and next year who knows.”

MacFoy said: “Kieron is so passionate about The Huddleston Centre, I want others to be passionate about it too.

“We’re currently looking for a chair and treasurer for the organisation and we’re keen for people to get involved.”

For more information about The Huddleston Centre, visit