What Next: for the Ladywell Playtower

Ladywell PlaytowerSince September 2017, Annette Corbett and I have revived the Lewisham chapter of the What Next movement. We meet the first Friday of every month at 8.30 am for an hour. What Next is all about taking actions that will place arts and culture at the centre of the community. So it seemed to us that we should play our part in the consultation about the forthcoming redevelopment of the Ladywell Playtower.

So I  made a presentation last night at the Civic Suite in Lewisham, before the Lewisham Mayor and his Executive Cabinet, members of the Council Executive Team and the public who attended, speaking up for the only bid that supports the livelihood of artists and community organisations and has the potential to develop a creative cluster in Lewisham.

The final decision was a popular choice and went in favour of the Curzon Cinema bid and our favoured project by CJK/Copeland Park and Hillman is the reserve choice.

The conversation isn’t over, as the plans  put forward by the Curzon bid’s developer will still have to achieve planning consent.  We are not being adversarial but we will be keeping a watching and active brief (just as we would have, should our favoured proposal have been chosen as “restoration partner”) as the plans move forward.

This is what I said in favour of the CJK/Copeland Park and Hillman bid (5 minute read).

My name is Rebecca Manson Jones. I’m speaking in support of the CJK/Copeland Park and Hillman proposal for the Playtower.

I’m here as Co-Chair of What Next – Lewisham. What Next is a national non-hierarchical movement consisting mostly of individuals and organisations working in arts and culture. We are committed to seeing arts and culture at the centre of communities and playing a role in civic life.

The Lewisham Chapter is being reformed with currently 100 members on the mailing list. It was revived by Annette Corbett and me partly as a response to the London Borough of Culture – many WN London members are involved in that process – and partly inspired by the Ladywell Playtower Project. Indeed Annette and I formed a consortium to put in a bid not dissimilar to the proposal we are supporting. We did this because, as Lewisham residents, and independent practitioners, we are acutely aware of the squeeze on suitable spaces for artists and cutltural entrepreneurs to practise, invent, generate, present their work and to administrate their businesses.

Lewisham Council supports small and indie businesses – and we thank you for that – but these are often in temporary or meanwhile spaces that aren’t purpose built. This situation is not sustainable and damages the growing numbers of businesses and individuals that tend to be regarded as insubstantial, dependent on hand-outs or free desks, essentially insignificant to planners and budget-setters.

  • And yet, this week Arts Council England, has just shared that the arts and culture industry has grown 10% in a year, and now contributes £8.5bn to the UK economy. More than double that of the Premier League.
  • The Government is listening: last month Sir Peter Bazalgette published his report to the Dept of Biz asking for a sector deal for the Creative Industries which features and promotes exactly the kind of creative industry cluster, that this proposal could provide a Borough-wide focus for.
  • Sadiq Khan is promoting the Thames Estuary Production Corridor – of which Lewisham forms part.

In a time when “real” jobs are disappearing, creative industries are bucking the trend. Creative Industries will provide the jobs that increasingly people  from all backgrounds in Lewisham are training for and are well-equipped to do. The Playtower proposal can support up to 75 people and many more indirectly, close to where people live and have children in school or nursery, with excellent links to central London.

Secondly we believe – and we note that the Victorian Society agrees – that the changes required to realise this project will not materially affect the architectural integrity of the building, and do in fact celebrate it. Further, they can be dismantled and adapted to suit future uses in future generations, so that the building can continue to meet the needs of the people it was designed to serve.

The Playtower is not just for businesses and individuals. It also has a civic function. This proposal is the only one of the four that comes anywhere near acknowledging and incorporating that very important aspect not only in the enabling development proposals but also in the onward business plan for long-term management of the project. The Community Interest Company will provide a vital link to residents’ voice.

In keeping with the Council’s own strategy: the multi-disciplinary spaces for public use will generate fairer access amongst a wider sector of the population than the cinema bids or Goldsmiths programme allow for.

Much as I would love a local cinema (and don’t forget there’ll be screenings in this programme) both Curzon and Picturehouse – commercial entities – bring a very high risk of entrenching inequality rather than tackling it. And there are already plans for a cinema in Lewisham town centre that will come on-stream around the same time.

As for the live entertainment programme, currently most people leave the borough for evening entertainment, depleting our economy and making the locality less safe at night. The Playtower doesn’t need to be programmed with late noisy gigs to make a good return. A well-structured and inclusive programme will promote social cohesion and neighbourhood ownership. And Lewisham is very well connected to organisations to help with that.

Finally, It’s no accident that the CJK/CP&H proposal has been created by people who themselves work in the creative industries and are local residents. They recognize that Lewisham needs jobs, housing, work and social space. They know Lewisham’s burgeoning diversity of talent is at risk of floundering for lack of suitable accommodation, and that the wider community of Ladywell and Lewisham Central are short of space to enjoy everyday recreation and to mark the milestone moments in their lives.

The building was built for local people, part of the civic quarter and this proposal will give residents, an improved and safer street-scape, an all-important meeting, work and recreation space. And crucially it offers in the management structure, the biggest resident voice in its future.

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