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Community centres or community centers are public locations where members of a community may gather for group activities, social support, public information, and other purposes. They may sometimes be open for the whole community or for a specialised group within the greater community. Examples of community centres for specific groups include: Lesbian and Gay community centres, Christian community centres, Islamic community centres, Jewish community centres, Youth clubs etc.
Early forms of community centres in the United States were based in schools providing facilities to inner city communities out of school hours. An early celebrated example of this is to be found in Rochester, New York from 1907. Edward J. Ward, a Presbyterian minister, joined the Extension Department at the University of Wisconsin, organising the Wisconsin Bureau of Civic and Social Development. By 1911 they organised a country-wide conference on schools as social centres. Despite concerns expressed by politicians and public officials that they might provide a focus for alternative political and social activity, the idea was successful. In 1916, with the foundation of the National Community Center Association, the term Community Center was generally used in the US. By 1918 there were community centres in 107 US cities, and in 240 cities by 1924. By 1930 there were nearly 500 centers with more than four million people regularly attending. The first of these was Public School 63, located in the Lower East Side. Clinton Childs, one of the organisers, described it as
- "A Community organized about some center for its own political and social welfare and expression; to peer into its own mind and life, to discover its own social needs and then to meet them, whether they concern the political field, the field of health, of recreation, of education, or of industry; such community organization is necessary if democratic society is to succeed and endure".
Another pioneer of community centres was Mary Parker Follett, who saw community centres as playing a major part in her concept of community development and democracy seen through individuals organising themselves into neighbourhood groups, and attending to people's needs, desires and aspirations.
There are also community centres for a specific purpose, but serving the whole community, such as an arts centre.
Some community centres are squatted, sometimes rented buildings, mostly in Europe, which have been made into organizing centers for community activities, support networks, and institutional initiatives such as free kitchens, free shops, public computer labs, graffiti murals, free housing for activists and travellers, recreation, public meetings, legal collectives, and spaces for dances, performances and art exhibitions.
Community centers have various relationships toward the state and governmental institutions. Within the history of a given institution they may move from a quasi-legal or even illegal existence, to a more regularised situation.
In Italy, from the 1970s, large factories and even abandoned military barracks have been "appropriated" for use as community centres, known as Centri Sociali, often translated as social centres. There are today dozens of these across Italy. The historic relationship between the Italian social centers and the Autonomia movement (specifically Lotta Continua) has been described briefly in Storming Heaven, Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomous Marxism, by Steve Wright.
Social Centers in Italy continue to be centers of political and social dissent. Notably the Tute Bianche and Ya Basta Association developed directly out of the social center movement, and many social forums take place in social centers.
In the United Kingdom there is an active Social Centre Network, which aims to link up "up the growing number of autonomous spaces to share resources, ideas and information". This network draws a very clear distinction between the many autonomous social centres around the country and the state or large NGO sponsored community centres.
In Singapore, community centres are distinct buildings that are officially designated by the government of Singapore. They are meant to play an urban planning role especially as part of Housing Development Board projects. Enrichment and grassroots organisation are their functions like most other community centres, but relieving traffic congestion concerns by placing community centres nearby is also another reason.
- Squatter - More information on squatting and a list of some famous squats
- Selfmanaged Social Centers
- Social Centers, Community Spaces, and Squats From "Italy's Cultural Underground" by Adam Bregman
- Social Centre Network (UK)
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