This information is also available is a leaflet form here
In 1939 London was a crowded place. Having grown steadily since Elizabethan times, the population, at 8.9 million reached its peak just before the war. From then on it fell and continued to fall until fairly recent times. Somewhere around the 1980s, the population began rising and kept on rising up to the present day in 2015 where it now equals the 1939 figure.
The London Borough of Lambeth was no exception, its population tracking that of its host city. In 1939, it had a polulation of roughly 400,000 which then declined to 250,000 by 1980. It then started climbing, and now in 2015 it stands at over 300,000.
Put simply, populations need schools: more populations need more schools. Conversely, declining populations need fewer schools. As the population of Lambeth grew, so did the number of schools and as the population shrank so too did the number of schools. In the Tulse Hill area of Lambeth, for instance, against a generally declining post-war school population, Tulse Hill Boys School and Dick Shephard School were closed in the 1980s and later demolished, housing estates now taking their place. By the late 1990s, as the effects of unanticipated rise in population and hence demand for school places became apparent, Lambeth council began realising it did not have enough secondary schools. After some research, the land on Christchurch road adjacent to St. Martin’s estate, already hosting Fenstanton Primary school, was chosen by Lambeth in 2008. One of the reasons this was chosen was that the land was already owned by the council: it owned the Fenstanton school site (the main site) and it also owned the land to the rear of Maskall Close, long gone to waste, bordered by a row of garages, Neil Wates Crescent and Christchurch Road. Because this land, approximately 200 metres from the perimeter of the main site, is below road level it became known as ‘The Dip’
When the site of the new academy school eventually intended to hold 1100 pupils was announced in 2008, there was considerable protest. Briefly, local residents were fearful of the effects of the construction and operation of a large secondary school would have on the estate. Lambeth, clearly taken aback by the opposition, launched a major consultation exercise with the residents of St. Martin’s to try to isolate specific objections. It is said that the school design reflects those objections. The campus would be divided as follows: the main site would house the school proper and the dip site would be used as a sports area, all the waste ground being turned over to sports related activities and would also host a comprehensive changing and shower rooms.
The school was also promoted as bringing benefits to the community other than the mere provision of services for pupils: residents would be able to use some of its facilities too. But those proposed facilities would not be enough. There was clearly insufficient provision for the local youth. What was needed – and what the local youth said they wanted – was a new youth centre under independent control, separate from both school and council: something for and by the youth under an independent management structure. As a result of negotiations, it was agreed that this centre would be built on the dip site. This would be a two storey building with two completely separate and self contained premises – changing rooms for the school pupils below and a youth centre above. Local youth, would, of course, have access to the sports areas.
This was agreed by council officials. Indeed, it was explained to us as interested residents, that as a demonstration of the council’s good faith and commitment to the quality of local life, the youth centre building would be the first part of the entire school project to be constructed. The council was as good as its word: work on the centre and the sports grounds began around March 2012 and was completed by early 2013, apparently on-schedule. So far so good. We now had a brand new centre, much to the delight of the local youth, who at last could see that their input was being taken seriously. There was only one snag: it never opened!
Over two years after its completion, now in April 2015, that youth centre that once represented the input and hopes of so many of our local youth, remains unopened. Yes, the promises to build the place were kept. The local youth, reasonably assumed that once completed, they could then use it. Is this to be their first introduction into the world of politics.
In the meantime, the old Fenstanton school was demolished and rebuilt and has now been operating for over a year: City Heights, the large 1100 place academy has been built from scratch and since September 2014, has been operating as a school. The sports grounds and school changing rooms in the dip are in regular use by the City Heights students. Only the youth centre remains unused and unopened, an apparent testament to waste, betrayal, and broken hopes and yet more proof to the local youth that the adult world cannot be trusted.
Everyone in authority knows about this: the school, the council, the MP, all the local councillors and all other interested bodies. No-one disputes it – and no-one can explain why.
Double Dealing at the Dip ©Stephen Kearney April 2015