A chance to recycle history for the community

It was not the intention of this blog to be a breaking news site, but it now slips down that road to demonstrate that environmentalism is a far wider subject than just thinking about the planet in terms of saving nature, or protecting it from plastic.

Environmentalism encompasses a lot of other aspects of life, such as retaining history and protecting heritage – think the National Trust and others. It is also about repurposing, from within the garden to larger properties, fostering communities and making sure the less well off are supported. That could be countries suffering climate emergency problems causing refugees or communities closer to home. Lockdown has taught us much about looking after each other.

In the past few days, it has been highlighted that a building of significant – so campaigners say – historical note in Redhill has come under threat. 

A petition has been set up to try to save the former Longmead School site in a corner of Redhill on the Cromwell estate. The instigators include a prospective Liberal Democrat candidate from last year’s elections, a property enthusiast and members of East Surrey Green Party.

Built in 1910, Longmead has also been used as an adult education centre. Various people on social media have related fond memories of not only going there for school (pre-1987) but visiting it for yoga classes or piano lessons, among other activities.

Scribblings on the wall outside the building now indicate the passion with which the local community wants to foster community, rallying around this building.

Surrey County Council has given itself permission to demolish the building, despite a survey (in 2014) saying that it was structurally sound, but estimating at that point it would cost at least £1.5milion to repurpose.

Clearly, the council feel that it has no more use for the place, or perhaps that it would cost too much to upgrade. Or that it would be easier to knock it down and/or sell on. The campaign to save it asks that it be turned into a community hub with perhaps social housing, saving the shape and structure – and look – of one of Redhill’s last remaining historic buildings, in this case an Edwardian one.

The Liquid and Envy facade in the town centre eventually died a death, after a succession of attempts to keep it. The former Inland Revenue building hidden away opposite the top of Memorial Park is no more. It was flattened and turned into offices. With a bit of vision it could have been a bowling alley complex to rival Crawley and attract visitors. 

Redhill is now dominated by a modern office block, which is still advertising that it has a floor for rent, more than a decade after it was the central piece of a regeneration project. Many of the planned office spaces elsewhere in the town have since been turned into flats. 

It’s a shame that the planned business influx to Redhill hasn’t quite happened in the way it was envisaged. This despite the closeness of a busy railway station that has added a platform 0 (always good for a chuckle when telling visitors or friends about the town) to accommodate extra passengers, trains and stoppages.

The campaign does have a vision, for the site to be used as a community hub. This is a vague blank sheet of paper aspiration that is eminently possible but will take a lot of work. Perhaps it might be less work if council community services were moved there, or charities renting commercially elsewhere could rent it at knockdown rates. Have any charities been approached?

It is more than that, however. Whether it can be registered as an Asset of Community Value or not (an application has been made) it might well be possible to repurpose the building rather than to destroy it.

From a sustainability point of view, it would most likely cause a lot less pollution from demolition, construction and carbon emissions. Will it cost less to refurbish than rebuild? Is that relevant? Is there a price you can put on history such as this? Could it be that Raven Housing Trust, the local social housing operator, could become involved, to set up this possible community hub? One operates successfully in Merstham, to serve an area where there are a large number of renting residents residing.

An asset of community value application succeeded for the Garibaldi Pub in Redhill, which had volunteers prepared to run it. The Garibaldi has been a boon for people in lockdown, not only functioning as an off-licence but a “pub shop”.

The local authority to whom the ACV has been made has eight weeks to respond. Whether the application succeeds or not, you can now back a petition to save the building that has 700 signatures at the time of writing. As a local example of environmentalism, the efforts to save Longmead can be added to this blog’s list of campaigns, for your consideration.