Tag Archives: The Canons

The Canons plans not yet ready for a green light

There is genuine excitement in the air about the opportunity of over £5m investment in The Canons and its grounds with the support of the National Lottery.

We have worked with Friends of the Canons and Mitcham Society for over five years to bring these plans to fruition and were delighted by the success of Merton Council’s funding application in June.

We are looking forward to continuing our role in The Canons Partnership to support and deliver the project.

It is with a heavy heart, therefore, that we have found ourselves unable to support the planning applications needed to go ahead with the works. The detail of the plans still leaves too much at risk and we are still waiting for guarantees than financial surpluses generated from renting out office space in The Canons house and running the cafe will be reinvested in the future management and conservation of The Canons.

The plans require some damage to the listed house and walls, impacts on their setting and causes important trees to be felled. Some of this is necessary for the wider conservation benefits and the opportunity to share The Canons story with more people and put it on a financially sustainable footing. It is a difficult balance and we think more needs to be done to maximise the benefit to the local community.

We need to see more access to The Canons house and the new cafe opened up for community use in the evenings. The walled garden needs to be repaired with better quality materials and the project needs to take a much more sensitive approach to new lighting.

We are looking for the removal of eyesores – such as an empty storage container and poor floodlights – before permission to go ahead with new improvements. The wildlife impact of lining the pond needs to be better understood and there also need to be more guarantees over the impact of the building works.

The Canons project can achieve so much for Mitcham, and we want this very large injection of money into our area to achieve the maximum benefit.  We stand ready to work with Merton Council to support the changes needed to secure planning permission as quickly as possible.

Read our joint representations on The Canons

Canons £4.7 million Lottery bid a success

We’re delighted The Canons has been awarded over £4 million by the Lottery as part of a £5 million plus restoration project.

Securing this funding has been a major effort from the three community organisations who have donated hundreds of volunteer hours over the last four years to achieve it. These are Mitcham Cricket Green Community & Heritage, Friends of the Canons and Mitcham Society.

Merton Council is the applicant as it owns the land and buildings and expert consultants have provided new insights and research.

The project will deliver on one of the key objectives of our Cricket Green Charter.

The running track, dovecote, obelisk, Bellamy’s Copse and pond will all benefit. The Canons house will be restored. Most of the house will be let as offices but the basement will become a community space and the large room on the ground floor will be available for hire.

The disused toilets between Canons House and Madeira Hall will be demolished. There will be a new café built onto Madeira Hall looking into the east lawn where the dovecote is.

The car park immediately outside the entrance to the leisure centre will become a plaza, including a new children’s play area replacing the one in front of Park Place. A new entrance will be opened up at the obelisk. There will also be investment in managing the area better for wildlife.

And that’s not all!

There will be a programme of community events and activities, an archaeological dig and educational projects. These will provide multiple ways in which local people can get involved.

This is a massive investment in our part of the Conservation Area. It reflects the importance of Mitcham’s heritage and open spaces. This one off funding will give The Canons a real boost and reinvesting the income it generates from new activities will secure its long term future.

Now the grant has been secured, the real work begins! A planning application for the works is expected in September. Watch out for more news and let us know if you want to get involved.

Mitcham’s cultural revolution

Mitcham is changing. Its proud history has never been in doubt but Mitcham has struggled to put itself on the map of places to visit or as somewhere to go out for the evening. It is a struggle even to find a cup of coffee within ten minutes walk of the Vestry Hall. So it is hardly surprising that for years there has been nowhere to see a play, watch a film or take in an exhibition. Community arts has been the exception and not the norm and local schoolchildren have too often had to go elsewhere to be inspired by creativity and culture. For arts and culture Merton has looked to Wimbledon with its three theatres, arts college, book festival, arts trail and other delights.

Yet the demand for places to go and things to do in Mitcham is rising rapidly. Whether it be people who have lived here for years or new people arriving there is a pent up demand which needs to be met. The average age of people living in Cricket Green ward is now under 35. Ethnic diversity has increased by over 50% since 2001. The opening of Mitcham Eastfields station and major housing developments such as on the old gasworks site are drawing new people into the area. This is generating new demands and Mitcham is changing. Some early signs were the roaring success of the Canons outdoor cinema in 2013 and the popularity of the few community arts event which have won through on the back of small grants and other funds.

Now Mitcham has three major cultural investments in the pipeline and we are on the cusp of turning it from a desert to an oasis of drama, film, music and the arts. First up are Merton Council’s plans for a cinema on the Sibthorpe Road car park. The details are still being finalised and no contracts have been signed but we could soon see the first commercial cinema in Mitcham since the 1,500 seater Majestic closed in 1961. The impact on Mitcham town centre will be dramatic. More people, more visitors and much more going on in the evening. This will spin off into local shops and new restaurants and, supported by the physical improvements currently going on in the town centre, it will make the area much more welcoming at night.

Then there are the community’s plans for the old fire station tucked behind the Vestry Hall on Lower Green West. After nearly 100 years service this has been made redundant by the opening of a brand new fire station near Mitcham tram stop. The building is locally listed and locally loved. Its sensitive location in the heart of Merton’s first Conservation Area and alongside Mitcham’s main civic building – the Vestry Hall – make it ideal for community use. Who doesn’t think a community arts centre would be a better alternative than a drive through McDonalds, Tesco Metro or yet another block of flats? And this is no whimsical idea. We have teamed up with the award winning arts charity Theatre6 to develop a strong business case and opened up the conversation with London Fire Brigade and its agents. Theatre6 makes for the perfect partner – working with Cricket Green School locally and winning the 2014 Evening Standard award for Best Musical in the West End. It is well versed in both community arts and big, national productions. Our plans for the old fire station include a flexible arts and performance space in the old engine house, local café and bar facilities, meeting rooms and the option of start-up space for creative and arts-based business. It could be a focus for local schools, support a community cinema club, become a meeting place for local groups and be the place to go to catch up with friends over a coffee. We know there is a huge local appetite from the groundswell of support the plans have received. The site is permitted for community use in Merton’s land use plan, Merton Council controls access to the site, the building lies empty and Theatre6 and Mitcham Cricket Green Community & Heritage are ready to go.

While the old fire station will concentrate on local needs there is also exciting potential in the future of The Canons becoming a cultural centre that draws in people from much further afield. This would be backed by nearly £4m of investment now being secured by Merton Council, Friends of the Canons, Mitcham Society and ourselves from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The plans are still being developed but they are being designed to appeal to local people and to attract visitors from a much wider area. The ideas already include restoring key rooms for visitors, offering a venue for special family occasions, opening up Madeira Hall for major events and providing new catering facilities. This will all benefit from significant investment in the surrounding open spaces to restore important heritage assets, celebrate its rich sporting history and enhance the area’s landscape and wildlife.

We’ve heard some people asking whether there is enough demand in Mitcham to cope with so many new places to go. Emphatically yes. The population is changing, there is pent up demand to be met and there are different markets to be reached. The fire station meets very local needs while the Canons and new cinema will appeal well beyond Mitcham. Seeing the latest blockbuster in the town centre doesn’t compete with the community cinema club in the fire station. Listening to Merton Music Foundation in Madeira Hall doesn’t clash with local schools rehearsing for a community play in the fire station. And there is enough coffee to go round for them all!

We have even heard some query whether talk of the arts and culture is really appropriate for Mitcham, dismissing it as something which will do little for the people who live here. We have no time for people who want to put Mitcham down and are confident these siren voices will be rapidly drowned out. Arts and culture are essential to everyone’s lives. They’re not elite. They support aspiration, open people’s eyes, bring people together and offer new experiences. Whether it be the Big Draw or Gareth Malone’s latest community choir we have all seen how people respond to the opportunity to get involved. Mitcham deserves more.

Just two year’s ago we brought people together to develop our Cricket Green Charter. It concluded that “there should be more reasons for people to linger and things to see and do, including in the evening”; that “there should be a community arts centre providing a focus for the area and opportunities to meet” and that The Canons, Park Place and their grounds “should be restored, given greater unity and become a thriving centre of cultural and leisure activity which appeals beyond the local area”. Within another two years this could all be a reality, and we could have a new Majestic cinema back in the town centre too boot. Bring it on!