At the KOV meeting on Monday, after we'd heard about the refurbishment of Vauxhall railway station, Brian Dickens of Sports Action Zone (SAZ) took the platform to speak about plans for the former Lilian Baylis School on Lollard Street. A short paper was circulated (apologies for picture quality):
New readers might benefit from a little recent history. In February 2009, Lambeth Council put together a hub group (All Nations Church, Sports Action Zone and Ethelred Nursery) to create a future at the former Lilian Baylis. On 14th December 2009, Lambeth Concil issued a statement to decommision the hub group. I wrote a lengthy post showing one way that the December 2009 statement might be interpreted. Nothing more has been said on the matter, and when I sent Steve Reed a Tweet in October 2009, all he would say is "Still negotiating a consortium to run the old school site, details public soon, intending it shd represent the whole community not just part." Go and read the 2009 update on the former Lilian Baylis for the more recent history. If you want to go even further back (because Lurking about SE11 takes history seriously), you can read my definitive potted summary from 2005 - 2009.
Considering all of that, I hoped that the next part of the process would be the announcement of a new consortium to manage the site (as per Steve Reed's Tweet). I expected that a varied combination of organisations would speak about their plans for the site. Despite heartily commending their proposals, it was slightly disappointing to receive a presentation from Sports Action Zone alone. Mr Dickens noted that since 2005, SAZ's aim has been to "develop the community through sport". He also commented, "it's not only sport, it is a community hub, it is intergenerational. It's about health, it's about arts, it's about music media. It is about cycling and helping young people put bikes together. It is about a whole range of opportunities for the local community." Accordingly, 90% of the onsite provision is free and there are 90,000 attendances every year. There are case studies now from young people who've changed their lives as a result of being involved in projects on site:
Working with the South Bank Employer's Group, SAZ successfully obtained £75,000 from the Government's Community Builds Program. With that, they've examined a sustainable approach to developing a portion of the former Lilian Baylis site. "Part of the problem," Brian Dickens acknowledged, is that "there has never been an understanding of what the site is going to become". Well, precisely. The site is listed in its entirety, making developent very tricky. Despite this, SAZ have identified an area of the site (I think it's the section showing the sports courts on the board below) which looks as though it could be developed. Through the Community Builds Program, £2 million of funds can be accessed to refurbish the site and SAZ are speaking to several investors about bringing in additional money for the project:
Some of the investment on site has already been made. Barclays have provided brand new tennis court and a fourth generation national turf pitch was donated by Nike. SAZ want to put an athletics track at the back of the site, expand the area available for sports on site and replace the existing sports hall through bringing in external funding. SAZ also hope to work alongside Lambeth Council with the appointed architects to review the Statement of Significance to consider how the listed buildings on the site might be used. SAZ would like the site to be a community hub with a remit that is wider than sport. This will require further consultation with the community. However, proposal need to be submitted to the Community Builds Program very swiftly. SAZ are thus hoping that their the plans will go before Lambeth Council Cabinet on the 22 November to give them the opportunity to secure the long term future of the site under the auspices of a Trust which would comprise members of SAZ, Lambeth Council and the local community.
It's an impressive overview, and quite clever, considering that the largest portion of the investment needs to be put into the listed buildings which SAZ will not seek funding to rebuild. If SAZ can pull this off, the question will be how the rest of the funding might be secured to put the rest of the former Lilian Baylis into good use.
Brian Dickens took a number of questions from members of the audience. One audience member asked about whether the trust would be formed for Area A (the section of the site that KOV hope to develop) or for the entire site. Mr Dickens said that he thought that, in the first instance, the trust would be responsible only for Area A, but that would not stop the trust evolving to take in the rest of the site. The difficulty is that substantial investment is required to develop the rest of the site. In response to a later question however about getting a trust off the ground, Mr Dickens thought it might comprise only SAZ and Lambeth Council members. I'd have thought that this might compromise its claim to independence, but never mind!
A representative from the Kennington Association asked whether Ecuadorian Volleyball could be retained on site. Mr Dickens affirmed that they're an important of the project and noted that SAZ were not looking to exclude anybody so, whether playing outdoors or indoors, Ecuadorian volleyball would always be a part of the project. Somebody asked about the link up between Alford House and SAZ (especially important, considering the squeeze that will likely be placed on the funding of youth projects). A brief response was received; "we're still working very closely with them, and we'd continue to work with them about how to involve them in anything that's going forward". Another audience member wanted to know whether sponsorship from Barclays would be developed. Further discussions will apparently take place about how they might be involved with other parts of the site. SAZ hope to look at developing apprenticeships to widen the project so that it's not solely about sport.
Many questions were forthcoming about the possibility of a swimming pool on site. Brian Dickens commented that swimming pools were very expensive to install and run, and was much more committed to the temporary swimming pool concept that resulted in this year's 12 metre pool. It seems a number of people support these temporary pools. Muslim women are able to use them since other facilities are unsuitable, and they are also useful for teaching children how to swim. 72% of children from Vauxhall School learned to swim in the 6 week period of the temporary pool's existence. I'm afraid that I don't see any permanent swimming pool funding being forthcoming (from Barclays or otherwise) and would rather continue to try to support proposals for a new adequately sized swimming pool at Elephant and Castle. In any case, Lambeth Council would argue that their new Coin St swimming pool in Waterloo should serve North Lambeth's requirements.
One of the final comments was, for me, the most telling. "I went to look at the pool, but I found the site barren and empty, and I didn't know if it was a training pool or whether anybody could use it...". Since SAZ continually stress their desire to look "beyond sport" and be a true "community hub" they could improve their service to the local community by providing information about what's available at present. Perhaps a weekly schedule of classes/training sessions on site, an idea of who is entitled to attend, a cost structure and opening times might be forthcoming. I'm afraid that, despite visiting the SAZ website, I'm still somewhat in the dark about whether SAZ is just for young people or whether it provides sporting facilities for the entire SE11 community. I'm broadly support the proposal, but I feel that the notion of an independent trust still needs to be fleshed out, and SAZ must demonstrate how it can offer services that will benefit the entirety of North Lambeth.