Stockwell Studios artist co-operative are once again fighting to remain in the former Annie McCall Hospital site in, Stockwell, South London. The Lambeth Council owned property is under threat of being destroyed due to pressures on the Council to make drastic cuts in the next financial year. Before the change in Government the council were negotiating a lease with Stockwell Studios if they satisfied health and safety standards for the building, the Studios carried out the necessary works but the council have done a U-turn and put the site up for sale leaving the artists once again with no option but to fight to save the building, garden and their artist community.
An easy Option? At this point Stockwell Studios do not know the value of the bids but it is not looking good for us, and based on past communication with the Council we have good reason to be nervous and expect the worst. Yes the Council need to make drastic cuts and generate revenue but when I read in the Streatham Guardian posted 27th January 2010:
Almost one in five of capital’s empty homes are in Lambeth, figures show As the Streatham Guardian revealed last week, some 1,090 council homes in Lambeth are currently empty, an increase of 183 homes in nine months.
Empty homes in Lambeth are estimated to be costing the housing service £8m a year, which some say has led to soaring rents for the borough’s tenants.
I cannot help but be dismayed and underwhelmed by the lack of innovation within the Council and their treatment of us, read our story below.
Stockwell Studios is an artist co-operative of 25 artists that have been custodians of the former Annie McCall Hospital in Stockwell, since 1986. In that time the group has functioned as an artists studios, allowing over 200 artists/crafts people/ performers/ instrument makers to work in a creative, uplifting and supportive artistic community. The group have historically held biannual Open Studios and offered an affordable community space for hire to local residents. ( In 2007 Lambeth Council stated we were no longer allowed to hold public events or allow the public into the building on Health and Safety grounds) .Over the past 5 years Stockwell Studios has become more embedded in the local community running workshops and community art projects. The surrounding garden and valuable green space has meanwhile been developed into a rich and fascinating ‘wildlife garden’, thanks to a lot of input from corporate volunteer teams and the artists, the garden is now open to the local community to use and enjoy.
In the time that Stockwell Studios have been at the Annie McCall site (owned by Lambeth Council – it was originally funded by the great Dr Annie McCall – and fell into Lambeths hands when it ceased to be a hospital in 1981) there have been various development schemes, which, for one reason or another have never quite worked. The site is problematic in that it is quite small for development and is surrounded by two large estates and residential streets, so more housing is not what that immediate area needs. The last development scheme collapsed in January 2010 after 7 years of discussions and plans moving from saving the building and keeping the community garden to knocking the building down, building on the garden and putting in roof gardens. At this time Lambeth council,because of their renewed insurance liability for the building requested that Stockwell studios vacate the building, on health and safety grounds. Stockwell Studios hired a health and safety expert and asked the council to provide a breakdown of the works needed to be carried out in order for the artists to remain and function in the building. What started out as a 6 figure amount to carry out the works got broken down thanks to our expert to a more manageable amount and Stockwell Studios members spent £52,000 of their own money and countless man hours and, with the help of some corporate teams, got quite close to completing the list of works. Running parallel to this, the council and Stockwell Studios were in negotiations on a lease offer of 5 years.
After the summer 2010 with no communication from the council and a change in government, Stockwell studios were getting nervous about their position especially as members had taken out personal loans to cover the health and safety works. In December 2010 Stockwell Studios received correspondence received communication from the council stating that in light of government cuts and health and safety works not being completed ( the council had not formally inspected what we had done at this point) the council were being force to put the site up for sale. Once again Stockwell Studios were thrown into a state of unrest and uncertainty – shocked by the news and dismayed that once again a fight was on our hands.
A marketing package was put together and bids had to be in by 6th June 2011, the package included our contact details and stated that bids which included artist studios and retained the garden would be looked upon favourable. Essentially it’s a numbers game, the council said they need to recoup £40 million in this financial year and unfortunately the Annie McCall site is part of that.
Stockwell Studios in partnership with a benefactor put forward a Charitable Finance Initiative which would retain the Studio’s in the main hospital building, the community wildlife garden, the community arts facilities and provide social housing by developing the adjoining houses and 2 front plots giving Lambeth a capital receipt of approximately 3 million pounds and a peppercorn rent.
How does this sale fit in with the councils Localism Bill or Cameron’s Big Society? Instead of destroying an artists community the council could work with the artists use their passion for the building and vision to create a vibrant artistic community hub for local residents and the international community; the garden could be developed to provide food growing experience for local residents; the artists and the council could work together to fundraise for the building to bring it to it’s former glory; the artists could provide a programme of workshops; international artists residencies; the building could be renovated using green technologies the possibilities and potential for this site are endless and Stockwell Studios are committed to.
Stockwell Studios members