The Future Rec

Architectural Photography by Simon Kennedy
THE FUTURE REC

BRUG and Rec users fought off threats of its demolition in 2007 and 2012. Lambeth has committed £10m to developing the Rec. BRUG is concerned to ensure the future Rec remains a facility which Rec users and the community want. Having the Rec listed might assist us in this.

We open the discussion with this article by Julian Cripps a Brixton Rec user and member of a local architectural practice, specialising primarily in the conservation, restoration and alteration of historic buildings.

WHAT LISTING COULD OFFER THE REC & BRIXTON

There are many preconceptions as to what listing means. That it makes changes to a building impossible, turning it in a museum structure and making repairs costly and bureaucratic, and that the benefits are just for Architecture ‘geeks'. These notes explain how listing works and what benefits it could offer to REC users.

The aim of listing is to protect the significant parts or qualities of a building, make sure that change and repair that will always be necessary, causes minimal damage to the buildings qualities.

Buildings are listed in three class’s: grade 1, grade 2* and grade 2. There are about 5,000 grade 1 and about 50,000 grade 2. Grade 1 is for say Westminster Abbey. The Brixton Arcades are an example of grade 2, listed largely due to their cultural
significance.

CHANGE AND KEEPING BUILDINGS ALIVE

Heritage England (HE) that controls the lists is very supportive of change to listed buildings, which does not damage the significant qualities, but allows the building to live and be relevant to people today. It is not about creating museum exhibits. It is now well appreciated by HE that if a building does not have a meaningful function or use it is at risk of neglect. There are currently some major changes even at Westminster Abbey to add public access to a vast unused gallery space, by the
addition of new stairs and lifts.

CONTROL AND COSTS

Some times Local Authority (LA) owners view listing as placing financial burdens on them to maintain a listed building properly, and that costs more, also that the requirements of getting listed planning consent for minor changes is onerous and costly. Today many listed building have management agreements that eliminate partof that issue, however the requirement for producing and making public proper plans for changes to the Rec is exactly what BRUG is constantly asking for, and that has been largely absent from the GLL ‘improvements’.

GRANTS AND FUNDING
Very important is that listed buildings are eligible to grants from the Heritage LotteryFund (HLF) which largely favours buildings that serve the widest community. The Rec with its 76,000 visits each year, largely from and located in an ethnically diverse and deprived inner city community, would be a very popular choice for HLF, which has been criticised for giving too much money to buildings that are in nice white middle class communities.

SUSTAINABILITY AND ENERGY

Any HLF funds would be additional to Lambeth funds and could be used to improve the sustainably of the Rec and could pay for works that Lambeth alone would not see as ‘value for money’. The aim for any HLF funding is long term viability. LA financial concerns are usually dominated by short term current expenditure.

A Combined Heat and Power (CHP) district energy system. it has been proposed in the Central Brixton Masterplan. The Rec is an obvious hub. HLF funds could help make Rec space available. The 2015 Lambeth feasibility report on the Rec revealed that its main plant room is oversize for the modern plant so this would be an obvious location for CHP plant.

REGENERATION

Listing can bring benefits that are not initially obvious but can be beneficial for regeneration. Listing as a formal national recognition of a heritage asset attracts the attention of the media and commercial partners keen to share or benefit from the kudos that listed buildings attract. This can be a double edged sword and must be carefully managed. However the Rec has such an enormous range of local users, they should be the principal beneficiaries of any improvements. Also the Rec is a mixed use building with shops, clubs and sports. So the reintroduction of commercial uses like a restaurant, if controlled, should not be a threat. This type of change would not be inhibited by listing indeed would support the revival of the initial vision for the Rec.

The Park Hill estate in Sheffield is potentially a good model of how both HLF funds and socially responsible commerce has been harnessed to refurbish a neglected housing estate. Park Hill although prized as fine late 60s architecture had become infamous for neglect and depravation. The local authority supported listing as it believed that it would aid the sorely needed renovations and improvements to sustainability. The first parts of these works have been completed and have proved
popular.

ART AND CULTURE

For Brixton, a listed Rec would draw attention to a neglected architectural designtreasure. Lambeth propose to use the creative arts as an engine for regeneration as part of the Brixton Regeneration plan. If the Rec and International House, part of the same building complex, were listed as a model of integrated mixed use development much space could be opened up to the creative arts and culture. The vision and initial use of the Rec included social and performance events as recreation as well as sport. These elements have been lost. The spectacular vision of the Rec is an ideal
environment for the promotion and development of contemporary art and design. If it is not protected by listing this asset could easily destroyed or debased beyond restoration by ignorant and thoughtless refurbishment.

CONCLUSION

The Rec has improved and enhanced the life of huge number Brixton residents. The skill and quality of the design has made this possible. It is the community that the Rec serves and protects that is key to its significance. Exactly why this unique building has enabled this community to thrive is not obvious. It is not all down to its initial vision and design alone. Listing cannot ensure that this community survives and prospers but it can help manage change in a more considered and better informed way and mean that long term sustainability for the Rec is put first.Improving the Brixton Rec for everyone.

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