Change ahead at the Brixton Rec

Darren Pope, General Manager at Brixton Rec
Darren Pope, General Manager at Brixton Rec; image by Max MacBride

With development afoot at the Brixton Rec, we decided to speak to some of the key players in its proposed redevelopment to get some perspective on what the future might hold.

Following the results of recent user and safety surveys by Lambeth Council and Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) who manage the centre, the Council has committed over half a million pounds to be spent immediately on essential maintenance.

This will be followed by an investment of a further £9m over the next decade to replace the building’s core systems which are coming to the end of their serviceable lives.

On the back of extensive campaigning pressure from users, local residents and this paper whilst the Rec appeared to be under threat of closure from 2012, the Council now remains committed to a Rec which is a ‘vibrant community hub and leisure centre in the heart of Brixton’. It has also resolved to ‘maintain its integrity as an iconic Brixton building’.

Whilst there is commitment from the Council to maintain the current core of the building structure, there is also recognition that the inside of the building requires major work. Cllr Jane Edbrooke emphasised the need to make decisions on the shape of the Rec ‘’hand in hand with the community’’ over the coming years.

New creche facilities at the Rec
New creche facilities at the Rec; image by Max MacBride

The initial £9m over ten years will be unlikely to cover any more comprehensive or ambitious redevelopment, and so a two stage capacity and feasibility study is underway to begin assessing options on this front.

“This is the beginning of the journey – it’s all to play for,’’ said Cllr Edbrooke. With Brixton on the doorstep of two major hospitals and obesity and diabetes big issues, Cllr Edbrooke also spoke of the importance of considering public health in the redevelopment. “We have an opportunity with Brixton Rec’s status as a trusted central point of the community to be ambitious and make a big difference to public health and wellbeing.”

We also spoke with David Duncan of the independent Brixton Rec Users Group (BRUG), which has been closely involved in consultations, to get their perspective on the state of play at the Rec.

David told us that generally speaking they are happy with the way things are progressing, and that the relationship with the Council and GLL has changed dramatically for the better over the last 18 months. He puts this down partly to the pressure applied on the Council and also to a change of management at the recreation centre.

There is an acceptance that changes will need to be made within the building, but that as long as the Council takes users with it BRUG have confidence the right developments will be made.

BRUG are also pushing for more community led activities in the Rec, and want to see the most made of the space, which David describes as ‘criminally underused’. For instance, there are vast spaces off Beehive Place and Popes Road which are currently unused and full of Lambeth Council ‘miscellany’.

David spoke of the need for the Centre to be financially accessible. “Small community groups can’t afford the commercial rates that GLL wants to charge at times.”

Finally we met Darren Pope, the Rec’s manager, who talked about the changing face of the centre and his vision for the short and long term future. Darren showed us around the soon to be unveiled crèche and nursery next to the entrance, which has had around £20k worth of work to what was previously a very underused space. It should be available to the community from the middle of this month.

New creche facilities at Brixton Rec
New creche facilities at Brixton Rec; image by Max MacBride

There are also big plans for the front entrance area. The gloominess of this area is a common complaint amongst users, so it’s good news that this will be receiving a facelift in the coming months. GLL intend to make the entrance the first thing you see, which it isn’t currently, and also make the whole entrance open plan where the sets of sliding doors are currently. There will be a fast-track entrance area to alleviate queues amongst the Rec’s 10,000 weekly users, with the sales lounge to be made accessible from reception so users can make enquiries without queuing.

The upstairs changing rooms and gym areas are also due to receive major renovation in the coming months to meet ‘health club standards’, with work due to be completed by January.

Darren is passionate about the future of the Rec, but cautions over the need for sustainable development and the need for community involvement. “I want to wait and see what the surveyor comes out with. We’ve got to be looking at the future and what the people of Brixton want. We don’t want flash in the pan development; we want change that will be sustainable.”

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  1. Well I really hope that things improve at the Rec, that is a lot of money. My biggest bone with the place has always been the appalling service that the staff provide – with one noticeable exception – a lady that does an early shift on the reception weekdays – she is excellent. Virtually all of the others are neither approachable nor well informed – and despite my forgiving and optimistic outlook, I don’t really see this round of money spending changing that – it has always been the same. Whereas at Clapham Leisure centre the staff are extremely helpful. Its almost like a disease at this place, perhaps Brixton sees itself as the gloomy, downtrodden suburb of the past, and so the staff behave in line with that view; but I really wish it would change. I hope the money can be spent on good staff training and selection, otherwise the structural improvements will be but window dressing.

  2. Some more info on dreadful employment practices of GLL.
    When a union rep sent GLL staff an email for recruitment
    Daren Pope , manager at Brixton Rep , replied –
    ” I don’t bite the hand that feeds me ”
    If that’s his view of unions trying to improve staff conditions,
    what’s his view of workers there ?

  3. I find the Rec rather depressing and claustrophobic – it would be good to have some enlightened redesign to make it feel more open and airy. Its architecture is rather dark and brutalist – more interior daylight would help, as would modern clean interior design.

    I have tried to hire a space in the Rec – but the windows were very dirty, the furniture was grubby and past its best and the conditions of use were not great, which is a shame, as there is so much underutilised space, as staed in the article.

    Trainers and staff don’t seem to be happy with theit cpnditions of servicel and many people who work there seem rather tense and unhappy. It can be hard to get the right information. There is very little sense of the Rec being at the heart of its local community, despite its importance and geographical centrality. Provision of noticebard space for local groups and organisations would be goo too..

  4. All the staff at Brixton Rec are on zero hour contracts and most frequently minimum wage. Cheers Greenwich Leisure! maybe you could look after your staff while you’re spending all this money?

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