Camberwell comedian Jenny Eclair on the importance of looking after our shiny new buildings (and Peckham’s new lido, should the campaign make it that far)
While on the tour recently, we Grumpies were playing in Birmingham and were treated to a night at the super swish, very shiny Hyatt Hotel, one of those international gaffs that offer pastrami and gherkins on the serve yourself breakfast buffet bar (excellent).
My room was on the 17th floor and on getting out of the lift, hundreds of feet above the ground, I queasily (might have been the gherkins) looked out of a huge window over the city.
Birmingham looked like it was recovering from a war; huge swathes of buildings are still in the process of being demolished, while in the middle of the wreckage stand the best of the old and the brand-spanking new. It’s a wonderful mix and just goes to show how regeneration can work, especially when viewed from a distance.
One of the most glorious new builds that I could spot was the grandly titled Library of Birmingham, an elaborate ‘spirograph’ edifice featuring coloured glass and touches of gold, a worthy 2014 Stirling Prize nominee.
Intrigued, I took the lift back down to the ground floor and popped over the road for a close-up nosey. The building only opened three years ago, but at 10am on a Friday morning, it was shut. Because of a shortfall in council funding, the library has reduced its weekly opening hours from 73 to 40 and is consequently closed all day, every Sunday. What a tragic waste of an iconic building.
Fingers crossed the same fate doesn’t befall the new council funded state-of-the-art Fusion Fitness Centre up at the Elephant. Named ‘The Castle’ this is a groovy new public space with sports hall, gym, spa facilities, spin studio and two gorgeous new pools. At the moment everything is pristine, the photos are stunning and long may that continue.
The Castle is a groovy new public space with sports hall, gym, spa facilities, spin studio and two gorgeous new pools. At the moment everything is pristine, the photos are stunning and long may that continue
Because, let’s face it, most things are built with good intentions, but maintenance is key and if public spaces aren’t maintained, they fall into disrepair and the next thing you know the bulldozers are back. Years ago there was a lido on Peckham Rye, a proper Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool that was neglected to death until, in 1987, it was finally closed and filled in. The bones of the baths now lie buried under the grass.
But possibly not for much longer as there are plans afoot to dig her up, add an open-air cinema, a restaurant and a gym. It’s all terribly exciting and if it happens it would be great, but only if we can afford to look after her. To bastardise an Oscar Wilde quote, ‘Losing a pool or a library once is unfortunate, twice is carelessness’. We’ve got to learn to look after the things we’ve got before it’s too late.