So the sun has been out and I was passing through Woolwich on a train. I havn’t been in quite a while, so why not get off I thought, and have a look round to see how the old girl is looking these days? So I did, and upon leaving the station saw an ice cream van. I got myself a 99 flake for £1.20. With strawberry sauce on of course. Is £1.20 good value these days? Considering I paid 2 quid in central London a couple of days ago I thought so.
The first thing I saw upon walking out of the station into the blinding sun and turning right was the newish paving on Woolwich New Road. It is already being dug up.
One part previously dug up had tarmac replacing the paving when it was re-filled. Tut tut. What’s the point in spending a lot of money on new and nice paving if it isn’t maintained, and contractors aren’t forced to put back it back when digging the surface up? The new whole being dug looks bigger so if they stick tarmac down to fill that it will look a right mess. To the right of this view, above the DLR station, is where a proposed tower comprising of a hotel and flats will appear –
I then went to Beresford market to see how it’s shaping up. New paving surfaces have been put down. This is part of a £6.6 million scheme to upgrade Beresford and General Gordon squares. The project is funded by TfL, and was part of Ken Livingstone’s 100 public spaces initiative. Again there were various patches of tarmac amongst the new paving. I presume this will be sorted soon before it is completed, and is where the new street furniture and facilities for stall holders will be. The workmen were busy at work in the heat on a bank holiday Monday putting in a raised seat along the length of one side of the square. Deadline approaching rapidly?
There were lots of cars parked on the new paving. Is it supposed to be used that way? Seems crazy to spend millions on sprucing up the area and putting in expensive new paving to then allow cars to drive and park all over it. Here’s the render of it finished –
Al fresco dining outside the takeaway apparently. Fried chicken in comfort. The hanging lighting will be nice. The Elephant & Castle pub facing the square (unseen here) has already been freshly painted , so maybe the rest of the buildings around here will be cleaned up too and much of the rubbish signage and plastic fascias removed. One can hope.
I then headed towards the new council HQ, to be named the Woolwich Centre. It is pretty much finished externally ready for the council’s employees to move in in the summer. Woolwich library will move over too in June. Not a moment too soon as the old library is outdated and too small. As a main borough library it is put to shame by pretty much every other local authority central library I have ever visited. And as for it’s decor – brown carpets and beige walls? Awful. I heard a rumour a while ago that a pub chain was looking into buying the building when the library moves. Probably the best option for a decent refurb of the outside and bringing out the best of the building. Next door is the original Woolwich Town Hall of 1842. I know that cos it says it in big letters on the outside.
It’s in a very poor state. The paint is peeling off across the entire facade and it looks completely unloved. The lower floor is used as a Citizens Advice Bureau. I don’t know who owns it but how it’s been left to rot is awful. It’s not on a backstreet either, but in a busy location opposite Sainsbury’s and next to the main library.
The new Woolwich Centre wasn’t as oppressive as I had feared when viewing the plans. The upper levels have a glass exterior completely surrounding the structure. There is a podium box askew to the rest of the building. The lower levels comprise of reflective glass which looked good in the sun, and reflected the Town Hall nicely. The brick work on the middle levels had a smart restrained solidity to them. There’s depth to the facade with recessed brickwork and windows, and the contemporary practice of throwing myriad materials, shapes, and forms to break up the exterior has thankfully been avoided. It’s kept simple and works all the better for it.
By this stage the rechargable AA batteries in my camera had given up the ghost. Other things I noticed but didn’t photograph were that the old council HQ Peggy Middleton House, which was behind the new council HQ and weatherspoons, is now completely demolished. This is where the new tesco will be.
Also half demolished is the Victorian school on Macbean Street that was most recently Woolwich Poly. It was sad to see this mostly gone and I was surprised to see it like that having not read about any imminent demolition. Years ago a council regeneration official had told me Sainsbury’s were interested in a store there. I’ve heard or read nothing since though. There better be something good lined up to replace it, as Woolwich has had decades of demolishing attractive buildings and replacing them with dross.
I found a photo taken of the school demolition taken only a couple of days ago on the excellent photo section at welovewoolwich.co.uk
That site has hundreds of pics of Woolwich throughout its history. I think the person that runs it works for the town centre in some capacity as there’s lot’s of photos taken from shop rooftops and areas not publicly accessible. Well worth going to.
Work on General Gordon Square continues. Here’s how it looked today –
The new squares should be ready and open in a couple of months. It’s important the council regularly cleans them and has a rigorous maintainance schedule in place to keep it looking good. I take it as given that the current gaps and bits of tarmac will be sorted in the final weeks, and its already dirty appearance (due to ongoing construction?) will all be sorted before completion. This being Greenwich Council though I am a little skeptical. The council and attractive, well maintained streetscapes havn’t gone together in the past. Hopefully the enlighted and progressive changes seen recently across other parts of London, and other UK cities, under other local authorities, will act as a catalyst for Greenwich Council to take the job of making streets more attractive seriously. Also with TfL and the Greater London Authority offering guidance and pressure on urban design things will improve.
EDIT: I received a message from a fella called Adrian Green who is part of a group that have taken over the old nightclub next to the town hall in Woolwich. Here’s the message –
‘The Woolwich Grand Theatre project has taken over the old cinema at 38 Wellington Street (the former troubled Ntyce night club) and is staging a public meeting on the 3rd of May 6.30pm. The purpose of the meeting is to state our case for a community and live venue space in the heart of Woolwich, as well as announcing how we intend to fund this project in the short term.’
Sounds like a great idea and something Woolwich sorely needs. Good luck!