It was like a scene from that sweetest of films about community, Local Hero. As I made my way along Liverpool Grove, I could see people ahead of me all walking into the church, the very lovely St Peter’s Walworth, according to one book I’ve read, the only building of architectural significance in Walworth. Strangely, I don’t agree. I don’t think many at last night’s meeting would either.
There was a good turn out, a testament to how people care about our neighbourhood, including a fair few councillors, and we filled the pews. Jeremy, chair of the Walworth Society, scampered about with a mike to make sure everyone could be heard.
The biggest cheer of the night was for a local resident, fan of the library and the Cuming museum, who is also a firefighter. He urged all present to go to the London Fire Brigade website and take part in the consultation. If the current proposals to close fire stations go ahead, six of the engines and their crew who helped to put out the fire at Walworth Town Hall will be axed. There will be a public meeting we are urged to attend at the GLA 14th May from seven to nine in the evening.
There was another big round of applause for Judy Aitken of the Cuming Museum who is coordinating the salvage. Judy and I used to go to the same mosaic class, and it was nice to see her getting much deserved recognition.
The current special exhibition is still buried under rubble so we don’t know if anything is recoverable from there. However, sixty per cent of the items on display were rescued, dirty and damaged, that is still quite remarkable. Fortunately the majority of the collection is safely stored elsewhere.
There was a good feeling to the meeting and a noticeable and welcome lack of political point scoring.
A ripple of unease ran through the church when it was suggested that a new library on the Heygate development might be the way forward. Reminders of the council’s commitment to new libraries in the shape of Canada Water was met with silence. Most people clearly want our library to stay where it is, and for the museum to reopen with a bigger, better space inside a restored town hall. For myself, I should like that to include lift access to the reference library that could be reopened to provide some much needed, mobile phone free, serious study space, with the books back on the shelves and the big windows letting in natural light.
If you look at the photos I posted of the building after the fire, you can see the damaged steel supports. Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, warned that the structural engineers have yet to complete their report on the building, and a worst case scenario could be that the bricks, which to the naked eye seem fine, may have been so badly damaged by the intense heat of the fire that they could crumble.
People wanted reassurance that the money from the insurance would be ring fenced for the Old Town Hall, and not siphoned off anywhere else, and that the site will remain a civic one, and not become luxury flats. The assurances were given. Staying with money, Eleanor Kelly, the council’s chief executive, confirmed that the council would also be looking for any grants from central government or elsewhere that could boost the funds for restoring the building. No one mentioned the cause of the fire, but local resident Charlie Harvey raised the point that there were workmen on the roof, and should it transpire that their actions had started the fire, a further claim could be made from their firm. Peter John smiled at that, and it was clear this is something that has not escaped the council’s attention.
The council is actively seeking temporary premises for the One Stop Shop and the library. The library is likely to remain close for months rather than weeks. Pam Usher, of the library service, said the hours at John Harvard Library had been extended to help, and one resident pointed out that that library is a bus ride away, and that East Lane library is closer. No one mentioned Brandon library, but that is close to the Walworth Road too.
The meeting ended at eight with promises of continued community involvement in discussions about the future use of the town hall site.