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Islington Tribune - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 31 October 2008
Save this jewel of a health centre for next generation

• RACHEL Tyndall, chief executive of our community’s Primary Care Trust, notes in her Forum piece that “as the many people who love Finsbury Health Centre know, it is a building of immense social, architectural and historic importance” (Patients deserve the best, that’s why we must quit health centre, October 24).
I have had the privilege these last six years to chair a dedicated group of trustees who have successfully rescued and restored, as a living institution true to its original purpose, another building of “immense social, architectural and historic importance”, the Grade I-listed De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea.
By the start of this decade, it had also (to again borrow Ms Tyndall’s words) “fallen into a very serious state of disrepair”. Both buildings are 70-year-old jewels of the Modernist movement, designed for their specific purposes at the heart of their respective communities by two of the leading architects of their generation, Berthold Lubetkin and Erich Mendelsohn.
Let me encourage Ms Tyndall and her colleagues, from our experience in Bexhill, to renew their efforts to rescue, refurbish and relaunch Finsbury Health Centre as the core, and at the core of, the new health centre they plan, rather than abandon it.
The Grade I listing, carefully approached, need not be a barrier to effective modernisation of its old fabric to meet new requirements. Community commitment to a long-established friend is an invaluable asset. A jewel is a jewel – it gives a continuity of identity to location, a sense of history to animate place.
At Bexhill, we felt we were privileged stewards of a community inheritance, responsible to pass that inheritance on, renewed in its purpose, to the next generation. Ms Tyndall and her colleagues are also stewards of this vital piece of our own community’s inheritance. Let them look to similarly passing it on, renewed in its purpose. Once lost, forever lost.
Duncan Terrace, N1

• I WOULD strongly challenge some of Rachel Tyndall’s assertions which suggest that the existing Finsbury Health Centre building is not suitable or adaptable for modern-day use, or best located to serve the borough. Contrary to what she says, it is perfectly straightforward to install a lift into the building which could serve all three levels.
The windows and external tiling could be upgraded with new double-glazed windows and new external thermal cladding.
I understand there has been no detailed discussion of options or sharing of cost information between the Primary Care Trust, English Heritage or Islington Council’s officers. The original architect, Berthold Lubetkin, had the foresight to make the internal partitions flexible, with a view to making future alterations cheap and easy. He would have been very relaxed about allowing changes so that the building could suit modern requirements.
Nor is the building in a “very serious state of disrepair”. The whole roof was renewed in the 1990s together with the north wing cladding. The apparent disrepair is mainly the external tiling, which could be replaced.
It is true that the Finsbury Health Centre is a Grade I-listed building, but that does not mean it cannot be altered. It is listed and highly regarded because it was a conceptually pioneering building. Its use, and continued use, is everything. Its fabric can be changed as necessary.
The proposed location of some of the facilities to Hornsey Street is bad news not only for south Islington residents but also for those who live and work in south Camden and the City. Holloway is a very long journey.
Little account appears to have been taken by the PCT of Islington planning department’s figures for population expansion, which suggest that in the next 10-15 years there will be 25,000-31,000 additional residents, mostly living in the south of the borough.
Finsbury Health Centre is perfectly located to serve its community, close to shops, a park and bus routes, and with pleasant and safe pedestrian access in Pine Street. It is much loved by those who work there and those who use it.
Please can the PCT think again before it vacates such an iconic building.
Former principal conservation and design officer, Islington Council

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Islington Tribune, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to Deadline for letters is midday Wednesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld . Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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