It is a huge pity that the present severe economic climate is causing the leaseholders of two of Dulwich’s largest playing fields complexes to announce that they are to cease to use their pavilions and sports grounds, especially as 2012 has been designated The Year of the Playing Fields to mark HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The Dulwich Society has learned that Kings College, University of London is to abandon the Griffin Sports Club Ground in Dulwich Village at the end of August, the staff made redundant and the fields fenced off and left fallow, the pavilion boarded up. Although the manager of the clubhouse had put together a number of business plans to run the site these had been rejected by Kings. The ground adjoins the Velodrome site which itself has an uncertain future. Apparently it is the same story at the University of the South Bank ground in Turney Road although there no date for closure has yet been announced.
Perhaps we should not be surprised, after all circumstances change. One suspects a similar mood of despair hung over Dulwich residents in the last decades of the nineteenth century when these same fields ceased to be planted with crops or used for grazing. Quite soon after however, paternalistic banks and firms leased the land for their staff’s benefit with the aim of promoting both esprit de corps and physical fitness. When a century later their employees began to take an interest in D.I.Y and buying a car with their improved wages and their enthusiasm for company- led sports declined, then not unnaturally, the firms closed down the grounds.
This fortunately coincided with a number of schools wanting more sports facilities and the take up was swift - witness the recent replacement of Lloyds Register sports ground by DCPS in Gallery Road or Alexander Howden & Company’s ground by Dulwich College in College Road.
So what is the next phase? It is possible that the Griffin Club grounds might be used by the Charter School or Dulwich Hamlet School but only if their budgets can meet it or their PTA’s are strong enough. The South Bank ground in Turney Road could conceivably be used by the new Academy in Elmcourt Road, again if their budget allows. A second riding school in Dulwich might be an option, or, as elsewhere in this issue as Adrian Hill reminds us, there is a two year wait for allotments so perhaps this is a possibility, although most might agree, that ascetically the jumble of allotments cannot match the appearance of greensward. Perhaps then the answer lies with keeping them as playing fields. There is a huge demand for football pitches for young people and South London is woefully short of providing space for them. How one matches this demand with a regulated supply is more difficult. What is needed is responsible and motivated adults prepared to run the clubs and grounds.
Adrian Hill has also highlighted another matter in this Journal; the unacceptable level of what is termed ‘the night-time economy’ which is blighting the lives of residents who live near Herne Hill. There is an element of ‘own goal’ about this issue. Twenty-four hour drinking was introduced by Dulwich’s own Member of Parliament, Tessa Jowell, when she was Culture Secretary. The ground landlord of two of the offending premises is the Dulwich Estate. The Estate says it is powerless to act as the offending premises are let to sub-tenants.
Speedy action seems to be required. Tabling an amendment by the former and going through the terms of the head leases by the latter. Residents should also wake themselves up as Adrian makes clear. The alternative is likely to be a fall in the price of houses in affected roads.