Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The controversial closure of Offley Works and Starlight Academy's move to Peckham

In March 2009, the Guardian's Dave Hill published a piece on the potential closure of Offley Works, an LDA building in Oval.  Offley Works is in the middle of Offley Road and it housed, amongst other projects, the Starlight Academy, a non-profit youth programme designed to provide young people with skills in performance and drama, and potentially enable them to build a career in the music industry.  The closure of the site for redevelopment would have meant that Starlight and similar groups were without a home.  Fortunately, the Starlight Academy gained a reprise in 2009 (mostly due to an unfavourable economic climate, which put off impending building works) and were granted permission to stay for another year.  In February 2010 (just as the lease was up), a new lease was offered, but it was felt that this did not grant the Academy or Code 7 (a gang intervention project) enough security so they refused to sign.  The projects held fast in the Works until October 2010, when the LDA filed for possession, payment for continued occupation building at £878 per day(!) and court costs.  Starlight claim that by the time the LDA had got their act together to help them move, there was not enough time to raise necessary funds to finance their move.  It seems that on Friday 7th January 2011, the repossession order was enforced.  Rather worryingly, the judge also upheld the decision to regain the huge occupation costs against Starlight and Code 7, which threatens (from what they've said) to leave them bankrupt.

I received an email to say that the building was boarded up some time over the weekend.  Happily the Starlight Academy have found another home in Southwark, down at Peckham Settlement in Goldsmith Road (it doesn't mention Code 7, and there's nothing on their website, so I hope they're ok).  Starlight's new site needs repairs, and they're seeking help from the LDA, Southwark Council and the public to raise money.  What's not so clear is where any of the other projects housed within Offley Works might have gone.  Perhaps they've just faded away, or maybe they gave up some months ago.  I'll update this post if anybody can supply additional information.

Small local charities are part of Our Leader's Big Society vision, but they struggle to get a hearing.  Watch one of Boris Johnson's finest moments, caught on camera by Code 7, here, as he refuses to enter into discussion and brushes Code 7 off on to James Cleverley.  Mr Cleverley agreed to meet Code 7, but was later uncontactable.  I wish I'd heard news of the possession order prior to closure, since I believe these small projects are vital for promoting social cohesion, building the confidence of young people and providing them with a constructive space, instead of the streets, to  learn new skills.  I don't know whether our hyper-local blogs influence decision makers, but I can tell from various Lurking about SE11 stats that people from the LDA, London Transport and even the Houses of Parliament do visit, and we've seen encouraging progress on other matters by campaigning from local organisations such as the Kennington Association.  Please do email me if you are aware of other organisations under threat so that we can share local knowledge and work together to sustain our community.  Through sharing news, I hope we can figure out who is worth supporting. In the interests of fairness and balance, I should note that the Evening Standard published a damning piece on both Code 7 and Starlight back in June 2009 when it alleged:
"Starlight claims it has provided arts outreach training for young people at risk since 1997, and in Lambeth since 2006. However, there are no current courses shown on its website. Its listed telephone number is a mobile which was switched off, and it failed to respond to emails from the Evening Standard posing as a would-be student asking about outreach courses"
I don't have any insider information on this matter, and it should of course be noted Starlight and Code 7 came under Ken Livingstone's remit, so it's not surprising that the new administration under Boris are reluctant to give them air time.  Whatever the truth of the matter, it's clear that Starlight have a strong enough project that they've been given a home in Southwark.

The LDA have their own plans for Offley Works.  Apparently it will be redeveloped as "an employment-led mixed use scheme".  I'm unclear on whether that means residential live/work unit flats (which usually end up just being converted into flats) or some type of business park (a strange use since Kennington Park Business Centre and the Co-op centre in Mowll Street have available units).  The buildings are in a considerable state of disrepair and do need work, but this possession order business does not seem to be the best start for this LDA project.  Design for London have a good photo of the building (and surrounding area) from above.


Michael said...

Just to add that the last remaining tenants of Offley Works, Furniture Aid South Thames, have now moved out. They have also been offered a home by Southwark.

I've also spoken to Sharwoods Pickles who orginally built the place -they are planning to ask the developers to put a plaque somewhere to commemorate this bit of local history

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