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Southwark Council Statement on Livesey Museum

Published 15 July 2010

Councillor Veronica Ward said:"The Livesey museum was given to Southwark by George Livesey to provide educational benefits to the residents of the former parish of Camberwell.

"The Livesey museum was given to Southwark by George Livesey to provide educational benefits to the residents of the former parish of Camberwell. As the new cabinet member for Culture, I am disappointed that it has not proved possible to take forward Theatre Peckham's proposal.

"The voluntary sector is going to be hit hard by the government's unprecedented cuts to public sector finance. Theatre Peckham, which was interested in taking over the museum, has had to reassess its situation following completion of a feasibility study, which looked at the costs of transforming the building for its use. In the light of this report and discussions with potential funders they are now concentrating on building the capacity of their organisation with a view for a more suitable premise in the future.

"Given the importance of securing the future of the building, I have asked officers to urgently look into the other options. Southwark Council is liaising with the Charity Commission regarding acceptable uses for the building within the terms of its original bequest. At the same time I will be speaking to all the community groups involved in looking at plans for the building."

 Suzy Smith, Executive Director of Theatre Peckham said: "We have had to reassess our situation in the light of the in depth feasibility study carried out by ourselves and our architect, Sarah Wigglesworth. This disclosed it would cost approximately £5 million to convert the building to meet the needs of our very extensive education programme. We now have to concentrate on strengthening our organisation, fundraising and actively looking for a suitable site to make our permanent home. We had high hopes for the Livesey and it is sad that we were not able to proceed." 

Q and A

1. What is the Livesey Museum?

The building was a gift in 1890 from Sir George Livesey, company secretary of the South Metropolitan Gas Company who was knighted for charitable acts, to the residents of the former parish of Camberwell. He bequeathed it to be used for the educational benefits of people living within the former parish. It was therefore originally a library. The building was then converted into a museum and reopened in 1974. It developed into a children's museum. Since 2008 the council has been working with local groups to find a permanent, sustainable and affordable use for the museum, that is in line with the original bequeath.

2. Why did the council close the museum?

The council closed the Livesey because the administration at the time believed it could no longer afford to run the museum.

3. Why has it taken so long to find a solution?

Following the closure it became clear that the council had been in breach of trust since 1974 when the building first became a museum. The charity created in 1890 when the council was given the building by Mr Livesey says it should be used as a public free library. Strictly speaking the museum should never have been opened. The council has had to discuss with the Charity Commission about how best to proceed.

4. What was Theatre Peckham's involvement?

Theatre Peckham submitted a proposal in 2009 for the use of the Livesey building, which included the creation of dance studios and rehearsal spaces, a conservatory area in the garden with café facility and safe play area for children and parents, changing and toilet facilities, office space, meeting room, storage space and potentially a lift to the first floor. TP has been working in Peckham for the past 22 years offering high quality arts and education training (often leading to qualifications) for up to 500 young people each week in Southwark.

5. What happened?

Theatre Peckham secured funds to carry out an in-depth feasibility study of the site. The study identified that the Livesey would cost in the region of £5m to develop to meet the demands of TP's extensive education programme. TP is now building capacity within the organisation.

6. What happens now?

Given the importance of securing the future of the museum, Councillor Ward has asked officers to urgently look into the other options. Councillor is also going to speak to local groups connected with the museum. A report will be heard by the cabinet into the options. Keeping the building secure, in good condition and free from squatters is crucial to finding a permanent solution. In the short period while the council looks at the options, the building is being used by the popular Guardian scheme, which gives people the chance to rent affordable space to live in empty buildings.

7. Will the council reopen it as a children's museum?

There will be a number of options open to us, which we will not speculate on until we have had a chance to properly consider them and discuss them with residents, stakeholders and the charity commission.

8. How much would it cost to reopen it as a museum?

It is estimated that about £500,000 of capital investment is required to bring the building back into general use, addressing access issues in particular. Theatre Peckham would have needed more money than this as they had specific requirements for the building. Running costs would also be required. The budget of the museum was £140,000 per annum. This did not include funding for exhibitions which would also have to be identified.

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