Brixton Recreation Centre could be demolished under council plans

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Brixton Rec could be no more. Picture by Sarflondondunc on Flickr

By Zoe Jewell, editor

Brixton’s iconic Recreation Centre could be knocked down or comprehensively refurbished, as part of plans for the area’s future.

In a draft planning document drawn up by Lambeth council planners and put out for consultation, it has been suggested that the Rec be sold and a replacement site found for Brixton leisure facilities.

The iconic building, opened in 1985, was once visited by Nelson Mandela during a stay in 1996 and is used by a wide range of Brixton residents.

In the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), consultants suggested that a new sports facility could be built on the site of the temporary ice rink in Pope’s Road, and that shops and housing are built in place of the Rec.

Residents had until Monday September 24 to comment on the plans on a shared online document and in workshops, though the council has been criticised for failing to publicise meetings adequately.

Bill Linskey, Chair of the Brixton Society, said that simply repairing the existing recreation centre and running it efficiently, which could be another option for the Rec, “seems to me to be far and away the most likely and practical.” He described building a new site as “a vast undertaking. There would need to be cast-iron guarantees that a developer would provide a new centre with facilities as good as the existing one and that the new centre would be completed and open before the existing one is closed and there would be public parking. This is one heck of a shopping list.”

Adrian Thomas, who works in Brixton and regularly uses the Rec, said: “I’d be disappointed if it was to be shut down. It’s quite a hub for the local community. Everyone’s comfortable with the environment. Where are people going to go in the meantime if they break it down?”

The draft SPD cites inaccessibility as a reason for the possible demolition of the Rec: “Many residents think it is inaccessible because current access arrangements require the use of an exterior flight of stairs or a long ramp which is dark and not particularly welcoming.”

The document also says running costs for the existing Rec are expected to rise significantly. On September 15 part of the ceiling above the café collapsed after a flood, leaving the centre closed to the public for the rest of the day.

However Cllr Lib Peck, cabinet member for regeneration, denied that there would be a financial reason to move sites, saying: “I wouldn’t say it’s economically unviable.”

Cllr Peck emphasised that these ideas will be opened again to consultation with residents during a statutory consultation period later in the autumn. “We will look at imaginative ways to engage in the way we have done over the summer”, she said.

The current centre offers a wide range of facilities including a swimming pool, gym and indoor bowls.

Linskey insisted that “the important thing is that the council must make its mind up about these options. A clear direction needs to be in the final draft.” Unless this is laid out clearly in the final planning document, developers are more likely to be able to decide the future of sites themselves, rather than the council or residents.



  1. Living since 20 years in Lambeth (Streatham) and having experienced the incompetence and ignorance towards the people of Lambeth by the council on a regular basis I am not surprised to hear of the plans for Brixton’s leisure Centre. by our incompetent local authorities. It goes in line with Lambeth poor performance in the boroughs ranking always being statistically in the bottom part of London boroughs.

  2. I really upset at the news about the recreation centre which I have only just heard of. Not quite sure why as I am a regular rec user and a Brixton resident. Is it really true that there are plans to put a Tesco there? This disgusts me, there is already a Sainsburys, Iceland, Marks and Spencers in Brixton, not to mention all the small businesses selling a wide range of groceries.

    Is there a petition rallying against this that I do not know about. Want to be involved to stop this nonsense.


  3. 55 brixton rec users group (BRUG) met last Monday and agreed we must save the REC as it is a unique facility. Hundreds have lobbied councillors. For how to do this, up to date news and other info about the Rec on facebook/brixtonrecusersgroup. Email to meet us on the net and/or in person..

    More than 60,000 users come to the Rec every month, an average 2000 per day. We are exceptionally inclusive, diverse in background, race, class, age, shape and weight.

    Lambeth Council claims the Rec has ‘best children’s gym in the UK’. There is also an indoor bowling club, climbing wall, health suite, group class rooms, Top Cats basketball, squash courts , sports halls, the main gyms , the creche, the best pool and most spacious and best equipped wet change rooms in South London.

    The Brixton black community is especially proud of achieving the Rec from the race and anti-police riots of the early 1980s. and very many of them use the REC , it is ‘safe’.

    BRUG has already raised with GLL ( now called ‘Better’!!) improving the lighting and feel of ramp access by e.g. removing the ‘spectator’ hoardings inside the adjoining sports hall , lighter painted walls and local school art competitions on the walls. And in 5 years we always have to argue for improvements to the cleaning.

    You do not tear down an exceptional building because you couldn’t get the lighting or the cleaning right.

  4. As a Tulse Hill resident in the SW2 postcode, I’m often baffled as to why Brixtonites moan about everything. All the Borough’s facilities are located in or around Brixton and they”re still not satisfied. In the eyes of the Lambeth Council, Brixton equates to Lambeth and Lambeth equates to Brixton. The rest of Lambeth suffers because the Council’s offices are miles away and we are either ignored or paid lip service by the Council, yet you Brixtonites are never satisfied with the developments in your area. Let’s face it Brixton is never going to be Notting Hill or Primrose Hill, or Battersea or Clapham or Wandsworth its too edgy, too working class, too full of drugs and clubs and too left-leaning to be anything else other than itself. This is what makes it unique and gives the area its character trying to force the council to turn it into an ersatz regeneration site is going to ruin the area’s character. I think Brixtonites should be happy with what they’ve achieved which is everything compared to the rest of deprived Lambeth. Compared to Brixton there’s practically nothing in Vauxhall, Oval, Stockwell, Kennington, Streatham, West Norwood. Apart from a privately sponsored leisure centre and Library in Clapham there has been nothing else of note in Clapham. Most developments taking place in the rest of Lambeth have been the result of private investment.

    • There is a lot of resistance locally to the proposed demolition. The Brixton Rec is well-used and a robust flexible structure. After almost 40 years of use it needs a sensitive refurbishment, and that would set it up for another 40 years. No replacement would offer these facilities in such an accessible location, given the present economic climate.

  5. Tescopolis strike again!

    In March this year Lambeth Council published its draft Planning Principles CPD. This states that their two guiding principles are to be the promotion of the unique character of Brixton and sustainability. Principle 6 commits them to “Making the most of cultural attractions and creative energy”.

    And yet, under the cover of this policy document this planning authority is considering the demolition of the Brixton Recreation Centre, designed during the hey-day of the Lambeth architect’s Dept. by George Finch (see It is a robust and much loved building serving a huge diversity of users.

    That it is embraced by the local community is demonstrated by the fact that it was untouched by the Brixton riots of 1985 and 2011.

    Many improvements have been made to Brixton as an urban hub in recent years. Notably the Windrush Square improvements. It is a mystery why Lambeth Council, with this record of aspirational improvements, should seek to take out this marvellous resource, located in the most accessible part of the borough, without any attempt to consult with the user groups.

    The proposal it to sell off the site (adjacent to a railway viaduct) for housing and to build a new sports centre on the site of an ice-rink. Why not use the ice-rink site for housing and properly maintain their existing capital investment (with all its embodied energy) which is in the right location to attract intensive use, if properly managed and promoted? The answer seems to be because TESCO is offering a bribe to provide sports facilities in Streatham, in return for — guess what—got it—a site & planning consent for a store. Planning? What planning?

    Kate Macintosh

  6. This is obsurd!

    This culture of scrapping and starting again is not sustainable and does very little for the local community … why does everything have to be so shiny and new all the time!

    I’m an architect and it strikes me that some improvements to the ramp and entrance with some internal refurbishment work to improve the energy efficiency of the building might be more cost effective than demolishing and starting again … If they need more space then the ice rink is a great location to expand sports facilities …

    … Brixton Rec is one of my favorite buildings in Brixton, such a good, friendly community vibe in that place : )

  7. What consultation was sought from current users of Brixton Rec? This is the first I’ve heard of any consultation process and I swim there weekly.

    There’s a lot going for the current Rec – good facilities, great central location, decent opening times. I’m always struck by the diversity of folk using the Rec for all kinds of activities.

    If it’s a question of a ramp that’s a bit dark, I’ll chip in for a lightbulb or two…

  8. I attend the Rec twice a week, and I’ve only just found out about these plans. Why was this not made known to the gym members before the 24? The Rec is a great venue, and things have been going well since Better took it over a few months ago. It’s cleaner and the staff friendlier.

    It’s a great facility and I would be gutted if it went! It’s under-used becausei t’s not advertised anywhere. I love it. There’s a lot of space and so many options : rock climbing, fencing, squash, swimming, bowls, indoor football and gym. Brilliant.

  9. The Council is selling of its assets without a thought of the social consequences for a poor local community. Without low cost adequate accessible sports facilities we can expect a repeat of the frustrations disturbances that gave rise to the need to build it on the first place . Brixton is changing fast and its important that the process of gentrification and development, inevitable as it is should be balanced with social concerns reflecting the needs of all socio economic groups.

  10. There is a certain amount of irony in all this. So many people were up in arms about the temporary placement of the ice rink being in a ‘no go area’, now it seems that this zone is now ripe for development.
    I certainly do not agree that there is anything iconic about the recreation center building, folllowing the comment made – but I have had the delight of going to the newly built Clapham Rec and the facylities are quite outstanding. The existing Brixton rec is pretty good though, vastly underated and underused, perhaps it is a little daunting for some faint hearted folks; my biggest beef with the rec is that it is filthy, the cleaning staff are constantrly bickering about having to do menial work and I have had to complain many times to get even the simplest of tasks such as the showers cleaned up. That is bad management basically. A privtelely run affair would not stand for the lethargic way the employees go about their paid employ so maybe we should support a new build that would 1. be more inviting for those currently not happy with accessibility, 2. blow us away with the faclities and 3. bring it under new management. I may be dreaming of course, something has got to pay for all this.

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