They’ve been boarded up for as long as most of us can remember. At one stage someone stole part of the roof. The whole building leans just slightly. And they narrowly escaped complete demolition over a decade ago. But somehow, the long-closed public toilets on Clapham Common Westside kept standing.
And flushed with their success at re-letting the Skate Park cafe (which as we reported last week, is set to have a great deal of money spent on upgrading it to become a new outdoor-focussed branch of Megan’s) and the imminent conversion of the central La Baita cafe to a new branch of Pear Tree Cafe (which we’ll write more on in the near future), Lambeth is now attempting perhaps the bravest leasing deal of all: seeing if anyone wants to take on the forest toilets!
Let’s be frank: I don’t think that Sanderson Weatherall, the estate agents who are advertising this property, will exactly be seeing queues round the block. It’s right next to the busy A205, it’s adjacent to a whole load of slightly scruffy and distinctly muddy changing rooms, it comes in at a pretty light 500 square feet, and the building needs a lot of work to get it back in to a usable condition. And as anyone who has been house hunting will know, it’s always a bit of an ominous sign when the estate agents’ listing contains no interior photos; and when you get there and there are ‘Warning: dangerous structure’ signs scattered around the building your fears tend to be confirmed somewhat.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a great deal of potential, and the listing notes that “creative ideas are welcomed to make best use of this space”. The number of people walking past here on a typical weekend is vast, and it’s right next to one of the wealthiest and densest residential catchment areas in London. The unit will definitely be cheaper to let than the central cafe or the Basketball courts cafe (which both go for about £25,000 a year) – though the potential here is so uncertain that no rent is even listed, its a case of getting in touch to discuss. There’s a surprisingly large amount of enclosed space around the building, if you prune back the rampant vegetation that has engulfed the building, which could become an enclosed terrace area. It’s actually a pretty elegant building – much more so than the Skate Park cafe; with fine brickwork and it even has a (presumably long-boarded-over) fireplace. And this part of the common doesn’t have any other Cafes in the immediate vicinity. You could go further and go for something like Stein’s outdoor sausage restaurant in Richmond, or even echo what Megan’s are doing on a smaller scale. It could maybe also work as a takeaway, a small gym, or even an artists’ studio. Being right next to the A205, most uses of the building are hardly likely to disturb the neighbours. The one thing it won’t be becoming is new public toilets – as the building doesn’t really meet any modern accessibility or security standards.
Despite being in Wandsworth, the building is being leased by Lambeth, who manage the whole of the Common; They’re offering a ten year lease, with a potentially lengthy rent free period at first in exchange for the new tenant getting the building back in to a usable condition. The lease also includes an unusual condition that “The premises must be accessible to the general public providing services or activities of a recreational, social or educational character benefiting the Park. This is in order to comply with Parks and Open Spaces Act 1967“. Similarly to the plans for the Skate park cafe, the premises can probably be “extended” over the garden area, provided the extensions are ‘temporary which means gazebos, blinds, pergolas, shipping containers – but no permanent extensions. This is all to comply with the very strict rules on what buildings and activities are allowed on Common land. A cafe is, generally speaking, allowable and is likely to be the most plausible use – but Lambeth are happy for potential tenants to think widely and imaginatively about what they may be able to do with the building.
So – are you feeling brave? If you want an unusual commercial project, or know someone who might, get in touch with Sanderson Weatherall (the listing, which went up a couple of weeks ago, is here). We’re glad to see that this building is, after several decades of disuse, finally ‘on the market’ – it has been decaying for years and with a bit of imagination and investment it could be an asset to the Common rather than an eyesore. Bringing it back in to use would tidy up this rather scruffy entrance to the Common, and if the new tenants replace the sadly lost but ever-popular ice cream counter at La Baita, so much the better.