Monday, November 13, 2006

What should Ladywell Playtower be used for?

One of the questions in the questionnaire about the proposals to extend the St Mary's conservation area (mentioned in 24th October entry), asked what the Ladywell Playtower and Coroner's Court buildings should be used for. I suggested that it would be good if some of the site could be used to house a local history museum. Lewisham does not have a local history museum and local archives are apparently stored in a basement in New Cross (possibly the Art House, but don't quote me on that) which has occasionally been flooded. A couple of years ago, Citibank offered the use of the old watermill building to house a museum, but nothing came of this.

I know the local history society are keen to see some kind of museum set up and one of their members suggested that the inside of the Coroner's Court (which is a grade 2 listed building) is unique and would make a good museum. I think everyone would like to see as much of the Playtower as possible restored, as together with the Coroner’s Court it is an important local building that makes a positive contribution to the character of the area. That said, I would not object to some housing being built at the back of the Playtower, to help fund the restoration of the rest of the building for community use, but the front and as much of the building as possible should be preserved.

Anyway, I got some feedback from the conservation officer today, saying that other people had suggested turning part of the site into a musuem. As of Friday, the Playtower is a grade 2 listed building, which will give it added protection. Following feedback from people who thought other streets in Ladywell should be included in the conservation area, such as Embleton Road and Vicar's Hill, the conservation officers are now looking at proposing a separate Ladywell Conservation Area, rather than extending St Mary's further west than the bridge.

Incidentally, while looking for a good picture of the Playtower, I found a rather good website called Derelict London - worth a look.


max said...

I had actually put forward a proposal and it involved using it as a smaller swimming pool with higher temperature water for people with mobility problems together with business units related to health like water birth tanks with a better environment than the hospital, massage, acupuncture and alternative medicine.
Its vicinity to the hospital as well as the Station could make it a viable financial proposition that could avoid selling chunks of it as flats but could add to the area as it would also create jobs.

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Anonymous said...

Don't have a use for the playtower but I believe there was a question to council suggesting using the coroner's court to house a history museum. Officers rejected the idea pointing out the local history archieve is at the library.

Ah, just thought playtower could be a cultral centre for the various nationalities in the borough? Or with so many professional musicians in the area a rehearsal/jamming room?

The council did talk of disposing of the buildings as a job lot, but don't know how that fits in the Mayor saying he'd like to retain the community use of the buildings.

Anonymous said...

Max - sounds like a nice idea, but where would the big chunk of capital needed to restore the building and pool come from?

Anonymous - the history archive may be stored at the library, but there is no space to display more than small amounts of it in temporary exhibitions - I think they is a good case for a local history museum.

max said...

That's a good point but if the use has a viable business model it would have the same access to credit than housing developments.
The difference is that in housing there's no risk and it has a predictable financial return of the investment.
The financial return of a business is slower but potentially much longer lasting.
Now that it's a listed building any restoration becomes very expensive and I'm not sure that even a partial use for housing can provide the amount of money that's likely to be involved.
Maybe a restoration towards any use that can provide jobs can have more merits when looking for funding.

Tanya said...

I think the Playtower is such a beautiful, amazing building. I dream it will become an arts centre with a small theatre, rehearsal rooms for musicians, a studio for theatre/dance and a cafe with art from local artists.
It seems the problem is funding for renovation. Can't an application be made for Lottery/Heritage funding? Can local residents help in restoration days?!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tanya
I agree that the Playtower is a wonderful building and I would like to see some kind of community use for it in the future. I suspect that there is a considerable amount of structural work required to make it safe before volunteers could be involved in renovating it, especially since the fire at the rear last year and of course this takes cash. I would imagine Lottery/Heritage Funding is on the list of options being considered, though very often these involve 'match-funding', so the Council or some other body will still need to stump up a fair bit of cash.

We are looking at empty/under-used buildings within the borough in a Sustainable Development Committee Scrutiny in the New Year, and I suspect the Playtower is one of those we'll be asking for a briefing/progress report from officers on.