A Vision for the Old Fire Station, Stoke Newington
Our vision is for the Old Fire Station to be
”A sustainable community building, building a sustainable community.”
We want the Old Fire Station to be a building that:
- Is welcoming:
a building that is inviting to everyone, offering something for people of all backgrounds and beliefs , from early years to retirement
- Creates a sense of possibility:
through flexible, responsive, management, nurturing imagination and innovation ; enabling local people to use the building in many varied ways; offering opportunities for every part of the local community to meet, share and be inspired, through events, activities and services.
- People remember:
a part of local lives, at the heart of our neighbourhood for high days and holidays; a Hackney landmark, that inspires a sense of marvel; a vibrant place for learning and an exemplar of sustainability and social inclusion.
The following pages expand on these key themes. We believe that the Old Fire Station CIO is now well placed to achieve this vision. We have worked hard over the last 5 years to transform the building’s fortunes, from a position of dwindling use and failing finances, to a stronger, economically sustainable organisation with a real opportunity to flourish.
First a temporary building development manager, and now our resident building manager, have significantly increased use of the building, raising its local profile, revealing its architectural character, and demonstrating the necessity of a dedicated staff resource in reaching a wider cross-section of the local community to generate sustained income. The Old Fire Station has moved from running at a deficit with substantial debts to generating a surplus and accruing essential reserves across this timeframe. As of this year we are pleased to be able to pay rent to the council for use of the building. We are now reaching out to the community, to grow the board of trustees, and to gather local views. We want to be more robust, more locally accountable, and to broaden participation in the development of our vision. This document is a basis for our continued growth, rather than an end product of the process.
There is much more to do, but we intend to build on the achievements of recent years, the potential of the building, and all that our current users can offer, some of them as leaders in their field.
Our vision is underpinned by a core set of values for the building and its use:
- Protecting and enhancing the environment
- Encouraging resilience and mutual aid
- Fostering community
- Supporting human enterprise and potential
A building that is welcoming
We consider it of paramount importance that the building is welcoming to everyone in the local community. Our recent survey of users showed much appreciation of the building and its current management, with particular recognition of our welcoming and flexible approach. We want to encourage more representative and widespread participation of local people, both in the buildings use, and its management, and are reaching out at this time to widen the board of Trustees with this in mind.
The survey also showed how the building’s eye-catching facade, and even temporary signage, acts as an advertisement for what’s available inside. Professionally designed signage to our street facades would clearly have an impact in reaching the community, letting them know the Old Fire Station is for public use. We also think the frontage of the building can be improved to create a more open and welcoming entrance, along the lines of plans previously developed but never instigated, as the funding stream was closed. Opening and glazing one of the large fire engine doors could provide an accessible DDA compliant street-level entrance to an enlarged internal foyer with a welcoming reception area, and improvements to the facade and entries opposite the post office should also be investigated.
Reception staffing needs to be extended to allow more public access to the building throughout the day. Once inside, we know our users would like to have a better standard of basic facilities: improvements to toilets on every floor, including for disability at least on the ground floor level, and access to a kitchenette for heating food, and making hot drinks for all the halls and offices.
As the range of services, activities and events at the Old Fire Station increases we will monitor our users against local demography, and work to encourage particular uses, to ensure we are reaching all parts of the local community.
A building that creates a sense of possibility
We want the Old Fire Station to be an inspiration, and a catalyst; the place local residents and groups think of when they want to put their plans into action, and also a place that sparks ideas. We want local people to benefit from the great energy, creativity, knowledge and commitment of the organisations inside, and we are now in a position to actively manage the building to bring groups together in new ways, using our networks and local knowledge, and supporting wider Borough strategies or events.
We also know the facilities we offer can help to spark our users’ imaginations, and develop the potential and enterprise local people have to offer.
We would like the community spaces in the building to offer:
- Better presented halls for community use
Redecorated halls with details restored, to show off their architectural character
Expanded space provided by clearing bulky storage units and partition walls
Improved lighting, both architectural, and functional.
Improvements to the basement to widen its appeal as a flexible hire space
A sprung floor and mirror wall in one space for dance and drama classes
- A soundproofed studio in the basement
Building on current use of a windowless basement room by a collective of local musicians.
- A community kitchen with production standard catering facilities
To be developed as a hire space for use alone or in tandem with the ground floor hall – for building skills, hosting events, parties or pop-ups, and supporting existing & new building users engaged in training and sustainable food production
- Roof terrace with garden
Providing an outdoor space for users of the building and social events
- Exploring the potential to extend the ground floor
Providing additional internal or covered floor space at ground floor level, and much needed outdoor play space for the nursery above
Improved facilities will enable local people and groups to use the building for a wider range of events and activities. With a particular focus on learning and training, the activities in the building will also provide opportunities for participants to experience and develop new possibilities.
We want the building itself and everything that takes place within it to inspire a sense of marvel and possibility in those that use the building or just pass by. Alongside new community facilities, we will work on innovations to transform the Old Fire Station into an exemplar of sustainability and social inclusion:
- Creation of a roof-top garden
Using the existing terraces and possible new roof spaces to create a mixed space of green roof, garden space and sustainable energy generation. This will provide improved energy efficiency and use of rainwater, the generation of energy for the building, a haven for finches and other wild birds, and space for roof-top bee hives.
- A centre of sustainable food expertise and experience
One of the building’s long-standing users, Growing Communities, is already a nationally recognised leader in the development of sustainable food systems. The Old Fire Station will build on Growing Communities’ status and position in the building to attract and enable other sustainable food initiatives, such as urban honey and mushroom production, community food events and food processing facilities for micro producers. Plans to put in place facilities for community cooking oil recycling are already underway.
- An exemplar of sustainable energy
In addition to rooftop energy generation we would like to significantly improve the building’s energy efficiency through a range of measures, from better insulation to a digester for waste food.
- A centre of social inclusion
We also want to do more to alleviate suffering and distress, to reach out to isolated and challenged members of the community, by providing services such as a food bank. We want to help local groups who often struggle to find places to do their work, because of prejudice or other inequalities: providing meeting rooms for mutual support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous / Alcoholics Anonymous, or pace for use by the local homeless shelter (timed to minimise any conflict with other building users); we are pleased to now provide an office for the Hackney Migrant Centre. There may even be scope for some additional residential space to support those struggling to find affordable accommodation – perhaps for young people leaving care who might enjoy and benefit from an opportunity to be involved as volunteers or trainees with some of our organisations, or for apprentices or key workers.
A building that people remember
By offering a wide range of services, activities and events in a remarkable building we hope that the Old Fire Station will be a place that people know of, come to frequently, and remember fondly, as a central part of local and Hackney lives.
As a Hackney landmark
The Old Fire Station is a striking building and a part of Hackney’s urban heritage and landscape. We would like to restore and develop the building to make the most of its architectural potential. Improvements to the exterior of the building remodelling of the frontage to provide welcoming entrances and bespoke signage, will greatly improve the status of the building as a local landmark.
We would also like to explore a more ambitious plan to rebuild the building’s former tower alongside development of the roof and roof-space along with installation of solar electricity panels. It may also be possible to reinstate the internal fireman’s pole as an added point of interest. We believe that the tower project could attract funding, including crowd funding, would truly put the Old Fire Station on the map and allow opportunities for regular tours, and participation in the Open House London weekend.
As a part of local lives
The Old Fire Station currently offers many services and activities through its resident organisations and groups using the halls and meeting rooms. We intend to build on this by improving and extending the facilities available, reaching more widely into the local community, staging, encouraging and enabling memorable special events, and actively promoting the building to attract users throughout every day of every week.
Current services, activities and events include: daily nursery provision, weekly pick-ups of local and sustainable food, Growing Communities’ weekly urban farm shop, support for migrants, a range of therapies (many at reduced rates for those on low incomes), martial arts for children and adults, yoga classes of many varieties, fitness training, baby development sessions, parents’ counselling, church groups and more…
Improved facilities and increased community outreach and promotion, with possible facilitation by resident groups and the Old Fire Station itself, will enable numerous additional services and activities, to possibly include:
- Lunch Club(s) for the elderly / young / isolated groups
- “Posh Club” with tea and cabaret
- Seasonal feasts
- Pop-up restaurants
- Lunch club for users of the building
- Concerts and performances
- Exhibitions of local artists
- Fitness lessons for the elderly / disabled
- Dance classes
- Brownies / Guides / Scouts / Boys Brigade meetings
- Restart Parties offering support and training in repair of household appliances
- Skills swap sessions
The Old Fire Station will also actively encourage and facilitate occasional events, attracting a wider audience to the building for different and enjoyable special occasions. Possible events include:
- The Stoke Newington Village Show, with prize categories including flowers, local garden produce and pets
- Good Food Swaps
- Film nights with thematic food
- The London Beard and Moustache Championships
- Playing a role in external events like the Hackney Carnival and Stoke Newington Literary Festival
Our Vision Values
We recognise that real innovation is as dependent on the people who lead on innovative change, as it is on any collective decision-making to embark on that journey in the first place. By embracing that philosophy ourselves, and by broadening the participation of the community at management/ trustee level, we can engage the energy talents and potential of Hackney residents, and be a catalyst for positive growth, in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable community building.
Clearly, we are in a new phase of development at The Old Fire Station due to renewed co-operation with the Borough, who recognise the value of this community asset and are working with us to find ways to make the most of the building.
Our vision, as outlined above can only be realised in partnership. It will depend on reciprocity with the Borough, close co-operation in the delivery of those goals and goodwill throughout the process. While we understand there is a temptation for Voluntary Sector groups to site their “uniqueness” it has become clear in the process of developing and writing our vision, that the buildings future will be it is at least in some part particular to the skills and enthusiasm, vision and determination of the volunteers who have brought it this far. People who live and work in this borough, or who are working in this building on a daily basis, have imagination, enthusiasm and commitment to prosperity of both the building, and for all the people of Hackney that cannot be readily captured in purely economic terms. Our belief is that the in kind voluntary contribution of Hackney residents, and people working in the Old Fire Station, supported by expertise from groups like ELBA or HCVS, is of huge value. We want to continue to build support for this vision, and shape the development of this community building for the benefit of all.