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Don’t let the Royal Free and the council damage our special heritage site at St Stephen’s

07 September, 2017

• AFTER following the events regarding the Royal Free Hospital’s proposed Pears Building and the opposing views led by the Hampstead Green Neighbourhood Group and St Stephen’s Trust, I feel that one important aspect has been left out and needs to be shouted about from the rooftops!

In 1998 two middle-aged local residents, myself and my husband, were granted the lease of the Grade I-listed St Stephen’s after fighting off various other applicants and their ideas for the building.

St Stephen’s had by then been empty for over 20 years, was inhabited by squatters, and their 20 tons of “recycling” rubbish (everything from bedsteads to dead sheep), and was listed by the then English Heritage as the building most “at risk” in the country.

We took on the task of raising £6.5million, of clearing the squatters and their mess and of organising the restoration of St Stephen’s, in the process reuniting the two buildings on the site encompassed by the one boundary wall.

Michael gave up the first few years of his retirement to mastermind the restoration – he gave every waking hour, usually 20 out of 24, to the project for 10 years, unstintingly giving all he had to carry out the fundraising appeals, the grant applications and supervising on site.

In 2009 Michael gave St Stephen’s back to the people of Hampstead, hundreds of whom had given donations towards the project, for use as a community venue for concerts, meetings and similar, as well as for civil weddings, receptions, lunch parties and more.

We have continued to use all available income for further restoration, as has been noticed on open days.

Now the Royal Free wants to put up a prestige building within yards of St Stephen’s and even closer to the Grade II-listed boundary wall and school hall which houses one of Hampstead’s oldest and best known schools, founded in 1949 by the family who still own and run it, my family, and serving nearly 400 families all year round.

When the Royal Free was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s the school hall was seriously affected and had to undergo major works to hold it together. The proposed new Pears Building will be much closer to the school hall and therefore poses even greater risks to the fabric of the building .

In my early days at school I watched the original damage as it occurred to the hall and also to sections of the wall, parts of which collapsed on two occasions during the building programme.

It really does not take experts to work out from my story that the whole St Stephen’s site is at risk structurally if the Pears Building goes ahead. I am a living witness to what happened all those decades ago so why do Camden Council and the Royal Free think it will be any different this time?

The ground is the same, the below ground water is as bad as it was (we have to have pumps under the ground floor rooms in St Stephen’s because there is so much water) and the proposed building will be much, much, closer.

Research laboratories and charity offices do not need a prestige building and a patient hotel needs only to be convenient and comfortable. The laboratories could be in the Crick Institute, or elsewhere on the Royal Free site, along with a block of offices and a hotel – there is no reason why they even have to be together.

Please do not allow our very special heritage site to be put at any risk of damage or loss.

Hampstead Hill School, NW3


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