Shooters Hill Multi-Use Games Area open to the public

MUGA Court behind Christ Church School
MUGA Court behind Christ Church School

Mtr. Ariadne van den Hof, the Vicar of Christ Church Shooters Hill and Chair of Premises at Christ Church School, e-mailed to say that the MUGA (Multi-Use Games Area) behind the School is now open for members of the public to use outside school hours. That means that it can be used after 5pm Monday -Thursday, after 4pm Fridays and all day Saturday and Sunday. Access to the area is through a gate at the end of the new path to the left of the school.

This fulfils the agreement made between the school and the Royal Borough of Greenwich when planning permission was granted to extend the school and create a new play area on Eltham Common.

The MUGA has line markings for a variety of different sports, and there is also a permanently marked hop-scotch court! What luxury, when I was at school we had to use chalk.

MUGA Court behind Christ Church School
MUGA Court behind Christ Church School

Free School in the Officers Mess

Victoria House, formerly the RAMC Officers' Mess
Victoria House, formerly the RAMC Officers’ Mess

I’ve often walked past Victoria House, the grand looking building on the corner of Shooters Hill Road and Academy Road, and wondered about its history. Recently I got the opportunity to get closer and have a look inside, courtesy of one of the (Interim) co-Heads of Greenwich Free School. While my main motivation for visiting the Free School was nosiness about the building, I found what I learned about the school fascinating and in itself worth the walk down the hill. My opinion of free schools, admittedly mainly influenced by newspaper headlines, was slightly negative: many free schools seemed to be motivated by ideology or faith, and I was appalled by the thought that creationism could be taught as though it were science. However I was very impressed by my visit to the Greenwich Free School.

The school opened in 2012 and will be based in Adair House once work on converting the building and constructing new facilities is complete. In the meantime they are using portakabins on the Adair House site, and have been granted planning permission to use Victoria House as temporary accommodation until September 2015. Whatever their provenance, the school is very much teacher led: their self-confessed geek teachers – enthusiasts for their subjects – are using the autonomy allowed by the free school system to pursue innovative approaches that avoid the target-driven micromanagement that blights many professionals’ working lives. In particular, I was told, they don’t focus on the C-D boundary as some do, which means not trying to improve the figures for the number of pupils passing 5 GCSEs at grades A to C by concentrating on those pupils expected to get a grade D. They are also determinedly Comprehensive, allocating places to equal numbers of children in each of the five ability bands decided by primary school tests.

The Greenwich Free School has proven popular with parents, and it is the most oversubscribed school in Greenwich with over 700 applications for its 100 places. This is despite, or maybe because of, its reputation for strict discipline and its extended working day. Pupils attend school between 8.30am and 5.30pm, a third longer than most children, though they aren’t set homework in year seven, and some of the additional time is spent on extra-curricular, enrichment activity.

I was guided on a tour of the school by one of the pupils. They have quite a few visitors, so every class has a “learning champion” who comes over to describe what the class is learning. One class was learning the basics of the Python programming language. They study computer science rather than ICT, and have some Rasperry Pi computers lined up for the class later on. In another classroom pupils were quietly reading, but rather than being seated at desks, as we always were when I was at school, they were all in their most comfortable reading position, whether that be seated, lying on the floor or otherwise draped over the furniture. That’s definitely the best way to read! At the end of my tour I talked about Shooters Hill local history to a pupil who was doing a project on the subject, and we had an interesting discussion about the history exhibited by the fabric of Victoria House.

Entrance lobby at Victoria House
Entrance lobby at Victoria House

The building’s history is most vividly illustrated in the entrance lobby, shown above. Victoria House was originally the Medical Officers Mess: the Locally listed buildings in Royal Greenwich list describes it as:

Medical Officers Mess (opposite the Herbert Hospital)
Built in 1909, graceful 2-storey building in the Classical style in two types of red brick; yellow terracotta detailing. Slated roof with Dutch gables to ends of building and centre dormer with semi-circular pediments extending into roof on either side of main entrance. Round headed windows to ground floor.

It was clearly once a grand entrance hall for the officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. It is a well-proportioned room, with some elegant iron work on the balcony. On the floor, in mosaic tiles, is the cap badge of the RAMC which, as wikipedia says, depicts “the Rod of Asclepius, surmounted by a crown, enclosed within a laurel wreath, with the regimental motto In Arduis Fidelis, translated as “Faithful in Adversity” in a scroll beneath”.

Cap badge of the RAMC in mosaic tiles in Victoria House
Cap badge of the RAMC in mosaic tiles in Victoria House

Another sign of the building’s origin as posh lodgings and a mess for officers of the RAMC can be seen in the room to the right of the entrance lobby. At each end there is a handsome wood framed fireplace, the top panels of which are carved with the initials of the then reigning monarch, King Edward VII. This is also repeated in stone over the entrance, together with the date 1909.

Carved crest in wooden mantelpiece in Victoria House
Carved crest in wooden mantelpiece in Victoria House

Finding out more about the history of the Officers Mess has been quite difficult. The date over the door would seem to indicate that the Mess was built in 1909, but according to  the Woolwich Common Conservation Area Character Appraisal, 1909 was the year the “estimates passed”, but it was built later, though there is no supporting evidence for that statement, or an actual date. Who was the architect for the building? I don’t really know: the closest I’ve got so far is an entry in the catalogue at the National Archives:

Woolwich Barracks: Royal Medical Hospital. Royal Army Medical Corps Officers’ mess and quarters. Foundation plan and ground plan. Record plans. Scale: 1 inch to 8 feet. Signed by Harry B Measures, FRIBA, Director of Barrack Construction, War Office, 80 Pall Mall, London

Harry Bell Measures was an architect who, amongst others, designed many of the buildings for London Underground’s Central Line. However in 1909 he was also the Director of Barrack Construction at the War Office and it was probably in this capacity that he signed the plans rather than as the architect. Seems like yet another good reason for a trip over to the archives at Kew to see if there are any clues there about who the architect was.

Another possible source of information about the RAMC Officers Mess was the the library at the Wellcome Collection, which includes the “Royal Army Medical Corps Muniment Collection”. It’s another place where time can slip away very quickly, absorbed in the collection of old documents and photographs. I found quite a few about the Royal Herbert Hospital, including pictures and photographs of Royal visits by Queen Victoria and Princess Margaret, but nothing about the RAMC Officers Mess. I’ve still got a few leads to follow up, but if I find anything it will be the subject of a future post.

More recently, after it ceased to be the Officers Mess, Victoria House has hosted a number of different organisations, including a doctors’ surgery, a pre-school and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help charity. In 2007 planning permission was granted, on appeal, to convert the building into a 75 bed care home. The conversion would have retained the front facade but the rest of the building would have been demolished. This was still the plan in January 2013 when the planning approval was renewed. However the Land Registry records that in June 2013 the building was bought by “The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government” for £4,800,000 plus £960,000 VAT. The plan now for the former Officers Mess is that it will become a primary school, and the Greenwich Free School Group has submitted a proposal to the Department for Education to set up this new primary school. It would adopt the same ethos and educational approach as the existing Greenwich Free School.

I hope they don’t lose the historical reminders of the Officers Mess in the process of creating the new primary school. The Heritage Statement submitted with the planning application only talks about the impact on the heritage represented by the nearby former Royal Herbert Hospital and Woolwich Common, not on Victoria House itself, but perhaps this is just an oversight.

Edward VII initials and date over the entrance to Victoria House
Edward VII initials and date over the entrance to Victoria House

Songs on the Hill

Songs on the Hill Poster

Eaglesfield Park Neighbourhood Watch Scheme have organised a seasonal singing celebration and community get-together again this year. It will be held in the new hall at Christ Church Primary School next Thursday, 5th December at 6:30pm, with the choirs of Plumcroft and Christ Church Schools singing seasonal songs.

Their announcement of the event gives the details:

You’re invited to take part in the Eaglesfield Park Neighbourhood Watch Scheme (EPNWS) Christmas carol concert on Thursday 5 December. Please put the date in your diary.
From 6:30 to 7:30pm, you can listen to the children from Christ Church and Plumcroft Primary Schools singing a selection of modern songs and traditional hymns in the new hall at Christ Church Primary School, Shooters Hill SE18 3RS. Please note, this is a venue change from previously advised.
You’ll also have a chance to join in and put to test your carol singing abilities!
Organised by the EPNWS, the event showcases the terrific partnership work of both primary schools and the importance of promoting community spirit.
Headteachers, parents, teachers, residents and scheme members will have a chance to get into the festive spirit, enjoy mince pies and mulled wine (at a small charge) and take part in the raffle.
Year five and six children from Plumcroft Primary School are making home made goodies for young people to enjoy including cookies, fairy cakes and truffles – all under the watchful eye of class teacher Helen Goodman.
This is the second time that EPNWS has run the event, and the scheme is hoping for an even better carol concert this year.
Jenny Penn, Principal Co-ordinator of the EPNWS said: “We’ve received so much positive feedback from last years event that I am delighted Headteacher Luigi Leccacorvi from Christ Church Primary School very kindly offered us to use of their new hall. The music teachers from both schools are pulling out all the stops to make it a terrific evening. I think everyone will be impressed and have fun. Also, the EPNWS welcomes the chance to continue our partnership work with our two local primary schools.”

Christ Church School's new building and the MUGA Court
Christ Church School’s new building and the MUGA Court

For many of those at the event this will be their first chance to see the new building at Christ Church, which includes the new hall and additional space for teaching. This makes a big difference to the old cramped teaching accommodation, which was well below government size guidelines, and also means that pupils no longer have to leave the school building for lunches, PE and games

It is more than eighteen months since the public inquiry into the use of common land for a new play area for the school, following which the planning inspector approved the development. The School decamped to portacabins at the Shooters Hill Post-16 Campus while the building work took place, returning to their extended home buildings for the start of this term.

The new buildings were commissioned and the schools hall blessed on the 12th November at a service presided over by the Bishop of Woolwich, the Right Rev’d Dr Michael Ipgrave. Schoolchildren were also addressed by the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Greenwich Councillor Angela Cornforth.

Last year’s Songs in the Park organised by the EPNWS was an enjoyable evening, though it was a little crowded in the Woolwich and Plumstead Bowls Club. There should be plenty of room this year.

If you miss this opportunity to visit Christ Church School, they will be holding their Christmas Fair on Saturday 7th December at 12:00pm.

The Bishop of Woolwich at the blessing of the new school hall
The Bishop of Woolwich at the blessing of the new school hall

Christ Church School New Website

Christ Church Shooters Hill  Primary School
Christ Church Shooters Hill Primary School

Another new local web site has just been launched – phase 1 of the  Christ Church Primary School web site is now live. New material is still being added to the site, but it already includes a wealth of information about the school and has links to external sites with data about the school such as the Ofsted sites. The school is also on twitter @ccshprimary.

Christ Church School Badge

Christ Church are still in their temporary accommodation at the Shooters Hill Post 16 Campus while the old school buildings are extended into their old playground and a new playing area and  MUGA court created on Eltham Common. I hear the year long building programme is running slightly late, and it may be the end of this academic year before they move back to their home further up the hill.

I’ll add the new School  web site to the local links list on the right.

School Expansion Approved

Christ Church School
Christ Church School

The Planning Inspector has granted consent to the creation of a MUGA court on Eltham Common, allowing Christ Church school to expand its buildings into their current play area. His full report has been published on the Planning Portal decisions page.

This will allow the school to increase its cramped teaching accommodation and play area. Currently their accommodation is 664 square meters short of the Department for Education and Science guidelines and their play area is 1860 square metres below.  It will also provide a more integrated school, removing the need for children to traverse steep outside steps in all weather conditions to get to the church hall for lunches, PE and games.

At the 2 day public enquiry in February the Inspector heard a large number of submissions of all opinions which he summarises in the decision report. He points out that the the proposed works will occupy only1.53% of the total area of the common and 0.15% of the Oxleas woodlands. He also concludes that there is no evidence that the Oxleas Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) will be adversely impacted, and points out that new habitat areas will be created as part of the proposed work:

As part of the application it is proposed to develop new habitat areas of 55 sq.m. and 48 sq.m. These areas will be seeded with shade tolerant wildflower mixes requiring minimal management once established. New planting will be provided along the boundaries of the play areas on the woodland and in the grassland. Other measures will include selective thinning of dense scrub, coppicing of the woodland edge, creation of dead wood habitat piles. The habitat creation and enhancement measures will create a diverse woodland habitat and will enhance the site for a range of bird species. The proposals will enhance the site for a number of bat species by the planting of night scented plants which will attract moths and other flying insects which would provide a food resource for bats; a bat survey did not reveal the presence of any bats on the site.

So the Inspector felt that there would be a net small ecological benefit to the development when balancing the habitat creation and enhancement proposals against the loss of amenity grassland.

Although the Inspector did not think there was a compelling case that the MUGA court was needed by the local community, it will be available, free of charge,  to members of the public outside school hours of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Friday during school term time.

The Council has stated that they will not support any future application for further development of the site, such as erection of floodlights or changing rooms.

Although it’s a shame that more of the open space that makes Shooters Hill such a great place to live is being covered, overall this seems like a sensible decision.

Map showing the area of Eltham Common considered by the enquiry
Map showing the area of Eltham Common considered by the enquiry


Eltham Common Public Inquiry

Google Maps' view of Christ Church School and the common land meadow behind it
Google Maps' view of Christ Church School and the common land meadow behind it

A public inquiry will be held on the 8th and 9th February into the proposal for Christ Church School to use common land on Eltham Common. The Planning Inspectorate’s notice of the meeting states:

Proposed works on Eltham Common CL40

London Borough of Greenwich

Application reference number – COM 219

Ms Heidi Cruickshank, an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will attend at The Public Hall, Woolwich Town Hall, Wellington Street, SE18 6PW on Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 February 2012 to hold an inquiry into an application by Pellings LLP on behalf of London Borough of Greenwich for consent under Article 12 of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Provisional Order Confirmation Act 1967 to carry out works on Eltham Common (CL40).

The proposed works comprise the formation of new hard and soft play areas consisting of playground (245 square metres), multi-use games area (858 square metres), soft/grass play area (660 square metres) and new planting (55 square metres and 48 square metres). All areas to be enclosed by fencing (2.1 metre high by 44.5 metre long and 2.7 metre high by 51.7 metre long weld mesh fence) and railings (1.5 metre high by 73.75 metre long painted metal) with gates. A new footpath will be formed from Shooters Hill Road alongside the existing school to the school and new play areas.

The inquiry will begin at 10.00am on Wednesday 8 February 2012. Anyone can attend the inquiry. Anyone who wants to be heard on the subject matter of the application may, at the discretion of the Inspector, give evidence at the inquiry or arrange for someone to do so on his or her behalf.

Copies of the application documents, representations, and plan can be inspected at Eltham Centre Library, Archery Road, Eltham, SE9 1HA (not public holidays). Copies of the application documents and plan are also available on request from the Planning Inspectorate, Room 4/05, Kite Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6PN

The original application for the school’s rebuilding work and creation of a play area and muga court was approved by Greenwich Council in November. (What’s a  muga court? I had to look this up –  wondering whether muga was a new game, some kind of Nepalese Quidditch perhaps – but it’s just a Multi-Use Games Area). Unfortunately the revamp of the Greenwich Council web-site means that the original documentation is not currently accessible, but the notice above summarises the issue – the use of a 50m by 40m area of common land for a games area for the school when the school buildings are extended into their existing play ground. The area is the field behind the school, alongside the track that leads to Severndroog Castle. The Google Maps snippet above shows the area quite clearly. By my reckoning 50m is  perhaps half the length of the meadow.

Campaigners against the proposal point out that Eltham Common is designated as Metropolitan Open Land, an Area of Special Character of Metropolitan Importance and part of the London Green Chain. Significantly it is also Registered Common Land, which is why there has to be a public inquiry into the proposed changes. Dr Barry Gray gives the details of the reasons for objection in an interview in the Plumstead Common Environment Group Newsletter, arguing, among other factors, that:

The proposed grassland area on which the MUGA pitch is proposed to be built is in an area which is extremely important for nature conservation. In the Greenwich Borough plan it is designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance of Metropolitan Importance. This means that it is in the highest category in London and its retention as an ecologically sensitive area is important for London as a whole. I have already alluded to the importance of this site and I think you should bear this in mind when looking at the ecological impact and the landscape impact of the proposed inappropriate development. To quote the Greenwich Borough plan policy 018 “a network of sites of nature conservation importance throughout the borough have been identified for protection”.It seems to me to be a strange form of protection to propose to cover most of the site, in this instance, with hardstanding material for what is, in effect, a fenced soccer pitch.

But, and this is a big but, Christ Church School needs to be able to expand its current accommodation for staff and pupils. It is cramped in its current building, but despite this the school was rated Grade 1 – Outstanding – in its last Ofsted Report. And the area of land involved is quite small when set against the size of Eltham Common, not to mention the totality of the common and woodland area across Shooters Hill.

Although Greenwich Council’s decision to approve its application for the Equestrian Centre next to Woodlands Farm isn’t, and shouldn’t, be a factor in the Planning Inspector’s decision, I feel it complicates the issue. The Equestrian Centre will also be built on Metropolitan Open Land.  It feels like the council is gradually chipping away at the area’s Metropolitan Open Land, paying no respect to its own rules and guidelines set out in the Unitary Development Plan. It prompts the question what will they grab next? Personally if there was a choice between building an Equestrian Centre that won’t provide much benefit to the local community, and allowing an outstanding school the space it needs to do its job I’d have no hesitation choosing approval of the school’s plans.

It should be an interesting Inquiry meeting; I don’t envy the Inspector her decision.

Eltham Common at the back of Christ Church School
Eltham Common at the back of Christ Church School

Freebie school

A few posts back I speculated that the late opening hours offered by the proposed free school might be reflected in a direct fee to parents (as opposed to the indirect
use of their tax), however following the recent report in the mercury, I looked at their website again, and couldn’t help but notice several mentions that the free school will be free in the money sense of the word as well as the lea one.

Actually if I’m reading things rightly this could actually represent good value for money for working families as it could end up being cheaper than using an after school club at a non-free school.

Elsewhere in the unfolding story of the school, things are looking very promising in terms of uptake, the one form intake policy has been revised to two with the reception class being oversubscribed! Years 1 and 4 are also looking busy, so now’s the time to join the bonanza!

Parents that have expressed their interest in a place are being invited to a forum next wednesday, details can be obtained following registration on the school website.

Shooters hill free school plc

The idea of setting up a new free school in the area has just been announced in a local leaflet in which potentially interested parents of (near) school age children are invited to complete a questionnaire on their website.

It seems that this whole enterprise is very much in the early stages and it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on, but if it does manage to open in September 2011, it will be the first free school to be set up by a plc (skyeward) rather than parents (hampstead and dearne).

The news section of the website reports that premises have been found at adair house (opposite the old herbert hospital), and the company “… have gained a better understanding of the needs in se18, greenwich”.

Currently the school is being marketed, measuring potential numbers of children, dates of birth, and postcodes as part of the campaign to start the school – they are also looking for parental support in this regard. The curriculum appears a little odd as it runs to 5pm on weekdays, so presumably it will be a fee paying school, with some tax funding on the side.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this pans out; could it be that Shooters Hill becomes a test case for the future privatisation of education?