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Food bank plan as Church considers what to do with vacant St Aloysius school land

St Aloysius closed down in 2019

23 September, 2021 — By Tom Foot

What should go on old school site?

A HISTORIC primary school that was shut down due to a fall in pupil numbers could be transformed into a new base for Camden’s biggest foodbank.

The Diocese of Westminster has submitted a “change of use” application to Camden Council for the former St Aloysius Infants School in Phoenix Road, Somers Town.

The application says that negotiations with the council over the future of the land have stalled, and in the meantime the building could become a storage facility for Euston Foodbank.

The charity’s operators say demand has soared during Covid, with cuts to Universal Credit looming, the end of furlough and extraordinary hikes to energy bills.

Crucially, the school would provide a more “civilised” system to the current set-up in Lancing Street with queueing done inside the school gates and food donations made in the playground.

Dorothea Hackman, chair of the trustees at Euston Foodbank, said: “We have 300 clients in some sessions, but clients have had to queue in the street, in all weather. We also haven’t got room to store all the food. The school is big enough with the classrooms to cover the needs of the week.

“We are very excited in a modest, calm sort of way. Even if it is just for three years – that’s going to make it so much more practical and civilised for us and, more importantly, for the people who are using it.”

Dorothea Hackman, right, at the Euston Food Bank

According to the diocese’s application, Somers Town has been classed as a “deprived area”. Despite such a large number of people living in dense social housing, there are no supermarkets and most residents have to go to Camden Town for groceries, a report said.

In July 2019, parents and teachers were stunned by a decision to shut down St Aloysius after more than 150 years.

A New Journal investigation last year found that land on part of the school site had been at the centre of a deal between the council and the Diocese of Westminster, which ran the school.

The land – valued at £750,000 – had been transferred to the diocese’s control shortly before the school closure announcement on the grounds it could then be used to fund a “rebuild project”.

This would, it was suggested at the time, secure the school’s long-term future. The poor quality of the school buildings was cited as one of the reasons for its proposed closure, along with loss of funding caused by the falling rolls.

The council has said the collapse in pupil numbers was a consequence of a plunging birthrate in Camden more generally, brought on by couples being forced to move out of London to find affordable housing. This has led to too few school-age children living in Somers Town, it was argued.

Carlton Primary School near Queen’s Crescent was also closed earlier this year with the council blaming falling rolls.

It was expected that the diocese would either sell the land off in Somers Town or propose some form of residential-led development with the council.

But in a letter to Camden’s planning team, the Diocese of Westminster said: “We have been in discussions with your property department but matters have not progressed. Therefore, we are proposing a change of use from non-residential to storage and distribution which we are advised is the appropriate use class for a foodbank.”

The letter said that the Euston Foodbank charity already works with the parish and that there is a clear need to “provide additional space”, add­ing: “There will not be people queueing on the footpath causing nuisance to passers-by.”

Deliveries would take place by car and van generally on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Bigger vans come twice a week.

The council’s planning team is due to make a decision on the application.

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