Read our view on the future of Ladywell playtower!

Ladywell Old Swimming Baths (Play Tower) – Response to Shortlisted Proposals

Lewisham Building Preservation Trust is a charity formed by Lewisham residents in order to take on and facilitate the restoration of listed buildings in the Borough which are at risk. It is the only Building Preservation Trust which covers the Borough of Lewisham and all the trustees are Lewisham residents. The Trust includes individuals with experience and qualifications in planning, fundraising and historic building conservation. For the past two years we have concentrated our efforts on promoting the refurbishment and re-use of the Ladywell Old Baths (Play Tower).

Thank you for inviting the Trust to give our assessment of the short-listed proposals for the refurbishment and re-use of the Ladywell Old Baths (Play Tower) focusing on those issues which we deem as most important to us. We would like to firstly state that we have been impressed by the quality of all four of the short-listed proposals for the building. We have assessed the proposals using the four criteria below as these relate most closely to our main areas of interest:

 Impact of the refurbishment proposals on the Listed Building
 Impact of the enabling development on the Listed Building
 Range of community benefits provided by the proposal
 Extent to which the proposal allows the local community to access the building

Using the above criteria as a framework the views of the Trust on the proposals are as follows:

Impact of the refurbishment proposals on the Listed Building

We are concerned that the ‘cinema pod’ concept put forward by the Curzon/Guildmore proposal does not fully respect the architecture of the main pool hall and may be visible externally. We are in favour of restoring the conical roof on the tower and for this reason are not in favour of the treatment shown by the Goldsmith’s proposal. The RJK/Hillman proposal is sympathetic in that it proposes to maintain the integrity of the pool hall as does the Picturehouse proposal, albeit with the addition of a rake in the case of the latter to enable it to be transformed into a cinema. We are strongly in favour of the reinstatement of the first floor railings and the refurbishment of the pool hall’s roof ventilator and leaded grills. Reinstating these features should be required of the successful bidder as should reinstating the railings on the front boundary wall.

Impact of the enabling development on the Listed Building

The proposals show varying degrees of enabling development with varying impact on the Listed Building. We are concerned that in several of the proposals (RJK/Hillman, Curzon/Guildmore), the enabling development to the rear of the main building would be visible above the roof line. In addition, in the case of the RJK/Hillman and Curzon/Guildmore proposals there is substantial development proposed to the side of the Old Baths building. Whilst we do not see this as ruling out the proposals, we prefer the treatment proposed by Picturehouse in that the low rise ‘box park’ structure is in obtrusive and not likely to adversely affect the Listed Building whilst also allowing a strong link to the adjoining Coroner’s Court and Old Mortuary listed buildings. In the case of the Goldsmiths’ proposal a shadowy building to the side of the Listed Building is indicated (‘phase three’). As this lacks any details it is not possible to properly assess it but it appears to be potentially large in scale which is of some concern.

Range of community benefits provided by the proposal

The Goldsmiths’ proposal indicates that 10-12 jobs related to running the teaching and some related to other uses e.g. the café will be provided. It also proposes an alliance with ‘Studio makers’ which aims to provide affordable space for artists. RJK/Hillman propose 25 new jobs in the construction phase and 5 during operation who would be paid over London Living wage. It also includes the creation of a Community Interest Company that would “provide a range of ongoing social impact and community engagement projects on site…to be funded via a 3% levy on leaseholders and shareholders profit”. The Curzon/Guildmore proposal features 27fte jobs paying at least London Living Wage as well as a ‘Film project’ featuring local oral histories. Picturehouse proposes an unspecified number of new jobs but there remains a question mark over whether they pay London Living wage. The Picturehouse scheme also proposes community/private hire rooms.

Three of the four shortlisted projects include a cinema of some sort. It needs to be acknowledged that the provision of a cinema with sufficient levels of comfort is a recurring ‘ask’ by the local community. That the Old Baths is being suggested as a possible site for this use by three of the four bidders is therefore to be welcomed.

The issue of a lack of off street car parking can be countered by the close proximity to the station and the fact that Ladywell Road/Lewisham High Street is very well served by a number of bus routes.

Extent to which the proposal allows the local community to access the building

The Goldsmiths proposal indicates that public would have access to main swimming
hall when it is used as an exhibition space for student displays. A courtyard café is also proposed. However, it is unclear how many of the public would regularly access the building. The Curzon/Guildmore proposal offers a lot of community access to the building via the cinema usage and also ancillary food and drink spaces as does the Picturehouse proposal. Given that the model for the RJK/Hillman proposal is the ‘Bussy Building’ in Peckham public access to the building would most likely be high.

Conclusion

We take the view that all four of the short-listed proposals are capable of representing viable proposals for the Old Baths building and providing benefit to the local community. However, our favoured proposal is that of Picturehouse Cinemas for the reason that it shows the optimum balance between the need to find a viable new economic use at the same time as undertaking a refurbishment sympathetic to the listed building setting. We also consider that the Picturehouse proposal offers good levels of public access through the main cinema use as well and ancillary bar/restaurant use and bookable community space. Finally, an important factor for the Trust is that the Picturehouse proposal would have the least negative impact on the listed Old Baths in terms of the level and type of enabling development proposed. Our one concern is the need for Picturehouse to pay their staff a minimum of the London Living Wage and hope that if this is the Council’s preferred development partner, this would form part of negotiations.

Yours Sincerely
Tony Rich
Chair, Lewisham Building Preservation Trust

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