SDC DECIDES FATE OF WOOLMORE
TOWER HAMLETS STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE DECIDES FATE OF WOOLMORE PRIMARY SCHOOL
An officer’s report packed with misinformation about the historic school building, plus a petition from 236 local residents in support of the Council’s proposed four-storey school, and a large attendance of teachers, parents and pupils at last night’s meeting ensured that the committee reversed its previous decision and voted unanimously for the four-storey primary school.
The conservation officer’s decision not to add the historic school building to the local list meant that some members thought that I had misinformed them about the significance of Woolmore Primary School.
Everything I have said and written about the 1916 school building is true and based on extensive research. Unfortunately, I am not a published architectural historian and that made it easy for the officer to dismiss my evidence. The fact remains that there is no other school building like Woolmore in the whole of London; and although vent stacks are a feature of the LCC’s Neo-Georgian elementary schools opened between 1912 and 1918, Woolmore is the only one with a highly visible and distinctive row of seven massive vent stacks.
Woolmore is not only a beautiful and unique building it is also a good and useful school building. With proper adaptation and refurbishment, all its alleged problems could have been solved; and would have been had the Birds Portchmouth Russum (BPR) scheme been given proper consideration by all concerned.
At least one member appeared not to be aware of this alternative scheme, which would have made the 1916 building “fit for purpose” and extended it with two new additions for a total of about 638 pupils. Clearly, the BPR scheme was not a proposal to just maintain the façade of Woolmore Street. Facadism is dishonest and not even mentioned in English Heritage’s recent report Refurbishing historic school buildings.
I have tried many times to draw attention to this report, which relates to all historic school building regardless of whether they are listed or not. Nothing one says or does makes any difference in Tower Hamlets, where all decisions about school buildings are made by Tower Hamlets Schools Limited; and nothing is done by the Council to dispel the general belief that only brandnew school buildings can provide high-quality education.
Had the BPR scheme been given proper consideration by all concerned, the older pupils at Woolmore would have had the addition advantage of specialist rooms (not provided in the Council’s four-storey school) and all the pupils would have been able to get around easily and feel at home in two two-storey buildings. Instead, they will have to cope with an intimidating and physically challenging four-storey primary school, with a teaching block served only by one very small lift, one safe wide staircase and one unsafe narrow staircase. In the original plans, shown to and voted for by the parents, the teaching block was served by two safe wide staircases.
Click image to enlarge – see the BPR scheme here
The tragedy of Woolmore is not just that a fantastic opportunity has been lost (and Poplar will lose yet another good historic building), but also the clear message from the conservation officer that he is not going to locally list any building on an existing or future development site. The Committee’s unanimous decision also gives the green light to all those other headteachers and parents who are demanding a brandnew school, rather than an adapted and refurbished school with new additions.
Many more unprotected historic buildings are now likely to be demolished and added to the growing list of demolished historic school buildings in Tower Hamlets. This includes Bonner Primary School, Mowlem Nursery, Christian Street School, Buckland Street School, the original board school building at Morpeth Secondary School, Woolmore Infants’ School (in Bullivant Street), and now Woolmore Primary School.
Our petition for local listing and the BPR scheme was signed by a total of 186 supporters. The paper version was signed by 3 non-residents and 116 LBTH residents, of whom 79 live at Robin Hood Gardens (not mentioned in the officer’s update report). The online petition was signed by 67 supporters.
For Notes on Significance of Woolmore Primary School see here. For misinformation, see April letter to Council Helal Abbas. For the school and community benefits of the BPR scheme, see April message to Mayor and Councillors.