The regeneration of John Scott

By Virginia Smith

The story goes full circle. In 2009 Hackney Borough Council announced the creation of the Woodberry Down regeneration team, with the utopian vision of “comprehensively redeveloping a Council estate into a vibrant mixed community of choice”. In many respects this regeneration plan is a carbon copy of the aims and objectives of the earlier planned estate, which was also conceived through necessity cloaked in rhetoric. The plan is to further increase density on the original site from 1,980 units up to 4,644 homes in medium-storey and high-rise blocks. Demolition and construction started in 2009, and the whole plan is due for completion in 2027. Whether the entire redevelopment is affordable, is another matter. In the expensive colour brochure, the master planners imagine a town square, retail units, a ‘state-of-the-art youth club, a new community centre and church hall, and a ‘lifelong learning campus’ including a new primary school, children’s centre, adult education and business centre, and a secondary school in the form of a City Academy.

There were also plans for a new health centre, eight storeys high, located north on Woodberry Down Road, near Manor House. The brochure stated that:

“A new 2,000 sq m health centre [will] replace the present Health Centre. The new centre will be the main hub for medical services in the North East of the Borough and will offer considerably expanded services, including diagnostics and management of long-term conditions. Clinicians will also be able to undertake many treatments, which are traditionally provided in hospitals. The number of GP practices within the Centre will also increase in-line with the growth in population.”

In current jargon, this is a ‘polyclinic’. It also included GP suites, a day nursery, and ‘some housing’. Luckily, John Scott was listed Grade II in 2007 due to its importance in the early history of the National Heath Service. Now, there is no plan to demolish the building, but a new GP centre (of some sort) will be built on the north of the site. It is estimated that the thousands of extra people will certainly need more medical services than even the John Scott can provide – the John Scott already serves a very wide catchment area over the three neighbouring boroughs of Islington, Haringey and Hackney.

So there is no prospect of John Scott closing its doors any time soon. It is fully integrated into the complex web of primary care services in north-east London, and its loss would be quickly felt. Current clinics and services at the John Scott Health Centre at present officially include: a child health clinic, antenatal classes and exercise classes; chiropody and foot health community clinic; a dermatology service; physiotherapy, paediatric service (vision and enuresis), dental services; community adult nursing with specialist nursing services; sexual health services; children’s integrated speech and language therapy service; children and families services: health visiting and school nursing; family planning, an immunisation clinic; alcohol counselling, counselling for the Turkish community, carers counselling, a Sure Start toy library, young people's sexual health, an early intervention team, and The Sanctuary homeless service.

The John Scott's work has now spanned over five decades, and its patients obviously value it. But is there any affection or loyalty to it, in the way that hospitals often seem to have? And if so does it just rest with the long-standing family doctors or GPs who have a particular ethos of practice? Or does the building have a part to play in its success?

Since 1952 new technology has changed not only medicine, but the methods of delivery, and the John Scott Health Centre has reflected this. Interviews with doctors and managers confirm the pace of change, particularly since the 1990s. Despite being mothballed, the ‘health centre’ ideal has survived, and is now being yet again re-invented as the ‘polyclinic’.

To a large degree, the John Scott has fulfilled the aspirations of its architects and social planners. It has remained a functioning building for approaching 60 years, and is still in full use today with little in the way of change to its internal configuration. The fact that it has doubled or trebled its staff capacity over the last 50 years, and has continued to provide precisely those front-line preventive and remedial services for which it was intended, is a tribute the foresight of its medical planners and architects.

But its future is by no means clear-cut. The exterior of the building will soon to be going through a much-needed maintenance and repair programme. This includes replacing original Crittall metal windows and repairing the artificial stone window surrounds that are failing. Whilst the threat of demolition has been averted, the Primary Care Trust’s lack of resources to sensitively restore the building could be its ultimate downfall. From interviewing patients and staff I have learnt that this is a well-loved building in desperate need of a friends’ group, or something similar to help care for it over the long term so it survives another 50 years.

View from Spring Park Drive, 2009.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The regeneration of John Scott' page

© City of London/London Metropolitan Archives

This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 15/09/2009.

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