Max Power's Playtower

Guest columnist: Max Calo

At last, a break from your Brockley Central correspondents quibbling over brick work.

Regular reader, commenter, blogger, artist and swimming pool-campaigner - Max Calo - has done what many others have talked about doing and then not done. He has written an article for Brockley Central about a local issue he cares passionately about.

Max mentioned yesterday that, frustrated by the slow death of one of Lewisham's finest landmarks - The Ladywell Playtower - and he had an idea that could offer it a lifeline.

Rather than risk it being swamped with exchanges in Japanese, arguments about cats, recipe suggestions and all the other things that make Brockley Central special, we've given him his own guest column to share his idea:

Playtower future vision

I first had this idea a couple of years ago, just reflecting on the potential of the Playtower building when this thought for a business to be based there came.

What I see is a birthing clinic providing the comfort of the home birth experience to those women that for one reason or another can't have a home birth but don't fancy a hospital birth either and are prepared to pay something for a much better experience than what is on offer.

But I don't see only a place to give birth, I also imagine a variety of other birth related businesses, all based in the old Playtower building.

A one stop shop for the expecting woman and a place to look forward to give birth into. There must be a lot of women that don't feel comfortable with the idea of home birth and yet choose Hospital birth instead full knowing that they won't like that either. Maybe they don't live close enough to the hospital to feel really safe in case a complication arises whilst giving birth, this is the principal objection preventing women from choosing home birth and making them opt for the Hospital instead.

The Playtower is close enough to the Hospital to overcome this worry. That's what makes it suitable for this use. The old pool rooms could be divided into birthing suits, each with its birthing pool and with space for relatives to relax in comfort during the often very long wait. The woman could look up and see the sky through the Victorian skylight. Then there would be extra rooms where your mother or husband can go and sleep a couple of hours or even a full night. It would be a place that makes it the best possible experience for the woman and her family. And after giving birth, rather than being asked to leave, the woman would be allowed to rest as long as she wants, even days, together with her child, until she feels ready to go back home.

Alongside these features there could be prenatal courses, prenatal yoga, a shop, a library, counsel, all you can think of, as long as it's related to giving birth. And a cafe where food that's good for pregnant women is served and that would also serve food to the families there for the births. It has parking space, the bus stop is just outside, it's almost next door to Ladywell Station, the back of the building is very peaceful as it gives onto a very quite pedestrial alleyway and then the park.

This is a service that's missing and the Playtower is the ideal candidate for it. The location is perfect as is its solid period look. It is also a Council property that the Mayor said he wants to give back to the community. What do you think? Wouldn't this be a worthy addition to the local services or do you think that it would be better used as flats?

I think that all the services that could be hosted there would make it a very viable business even without big prices for the hire of the birthing suites. I think that the women of Lewisham deserve something like this. The business could be run as a non profit activity, paying well those that would work in it and reinvesting any surplus into the upkeep and enhancement of the centre so that after it starts activity it keeps on retaining the edge.

Eventual unused spaces could be rented to related businesses that would benefit from the trade that the centre itself would generate, again bringing in revenue to help run it.

Unfortunately the building is in a very bad shape and it needs millions to get to that point. But in the long run it could pay its ways, and if the Council would help in sourcing all the needed ingredients then it could be done. There are good reasons to do it, to revitalize the area, to bring an important historic building back into use, to add a missing service that would enhance the quality of life of many, to expand on the services already offered by the Hospital, to provide jobs.

This is only an idea, and it needs careful evaluation before thinking of trying it. That's why I'm happy to throw it into this den, to see it challenged by all that the distinguished inhabitants of this forum can throw at it. And if it manages to go through it with dignity then maybe it deserves to be acted upon.

What we like about this idea is that it would create something genuinely distinctive (and of course useful) - a centre of excellence in an area that has too few. It would build upon Lewisham Hospital's strengths as a teaching hospital (although the proximity argument could be undermined if the health service review recommends the labour ward's closure). Its ambition makes it very interesting, but also difficult. But it's certainly more interesting than suggesting we stick a cafe in it!

So what do you think?