The the distinctive thing about Centerprise wasn’t so much what we did, but the fact that we had all these things together, and that we did always, that we didn’t make people jump through hoops when they came in. There were... And in fact because it was a coffee bar and a bookshop, you could come in without a sense of stigma. One significant question, matter, was that women who were being abused by their husbands or their partners could come in without anybody feeling suspicious, without them being frightened that their husband might find out. If they were able to say, ‘I’m only coming in, I was only going in for a cup of coffee,’ then, that, that didn’t set tongues wagging.
When a job came up at Centerprise, Robin Simpson “applied like a shot”. The Lancashire-bred, Oxford-educated idealist knew that this “centre of enterprise” was where “interesting things were happening”.
He ran the advice centre from 1974-1976, and turned what was a one evening a week drop-in service run by volunteer lawyers into a professional office that clients could access daily. He dealt mostly with housing and social security. Time again, he found that the Hackney residents he advised were not receiving the full benefits that they were entitled to. Many of his clients were “decent people who’d fallen on hard times”. Robin looks back on his time at Centerprise with great nostalgia and pride. However, working at Centerprise made Robin aware of the limitations of a collective: “Your utopias can only go so far.” Robin has lived in Hackney since 1971, first in Stoke Newington, and now in Stamford Hill.
Interviewed by Beth Young