With perfect comic timing, Camden Councillors are limbering up to mark the opening of the London Olympics with a vote today, 18 July, that will determine whether or not to sell off and demolish a popular public gymnasium serving the children and young people of a deprived part of NW5.
The plan, if approved, would see the gym destroyed and replaced with a housing development at the very moment that London is adorned with 2012 propaganda that commands us to ‘Inspire A Generation’.
Maitland Park is one of those ‘in between’ areas of North West London, near Queen’s Crescent, at the edge of or just within Kentish Town, bordering Belsize Park, and next door to Chalk Farm.
Public housing predominates in the area and the gym is hidden away between two blocks of flats on Maitland Park Villas.
Aspen House (left) was built in 1968 by architects Farber and Bartholomew: its imposing functionality belies the Italianate chapel that occupied the site from 1881. The one patch of grass nearby is off limits, the council’s message: ‘No Ball Games’.
The Maitland Park Gymnasium has served local people since it was built in 1937, along the parish boundary in a corner of the old school playground. Nearby was the Orphan Working School (of which Charles Dickens was a Life Governor), which moved to Maitland from Hoxton in 1847, and subsequently became known as Alexandra House, a care home, until its current redevelopment.
The gymnasium was built as memorial to Lord Marshall, long-time treasurer of the Orphan Working School, and opened by his daughter to become the last gift from the school to the locality (a benevolence made even more poignant by its current threatened status). After World War II it was used by Fleet and Haverstock schools, neither of which had a gym.
Now owned by the council, it’s home to a wide range of community sporting activities, aimed mainly at children and young people. At weekends, it plays host to the Hampstead Gymnastics Club, which trains children from five to sixteen to a high standard. Members quickly discover that they are capable of performing advanced moves that make their parents gasp with a combination of admiration and alarm.
‘This is a fantastic space for gymnastics. It’s perfect for us,’ said Theo Lake, who runs the Hampstead Gymnastics Club. ‘There is a real shortage of local facilities and we can’t afford to lose a place like this.’
It does not seem to bother the children in Theo’s classes that the gym lacks glitz and the building could use refurbishment. Sport England has a fund of £135 million to spend on sports facilities as a legacy of the London games: is it time for Camden to insist that a small part of that money makes its way to Maitland Park Gymnasium, to secure the future of this hidden gem as a valuable public resource for the people of the area?
In fact, Maitland Park Gymnasium is exactly what’s needed: public sports facilities for local children within reasonable walking distance of where they live.
Camden Councillors might ask themselves how on earth closing a popular, local gym will help to get children fit, kindle their interest in sport and keep them healthy – let alone inspire the next generation of sporting champions.
Source: Streets Of West Kentish Town by Camden History Society (£7.50)