V22 Louise House
Thomas W Aldwinckle
- Original design
- Thomas W Aldwinckle, 1891
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
Louise House is a Grade II Victorian building in the Domestic Revival style. There is also an ancillary building to the rear, known as the Laundry Building. It is to be found between Forest Hill Pools and Forest Hill Library on Dartmouth Road. Its original use (from 1890 until 1933) was as a Girls' Industrial Home. Run by a local charity, the home was intended to house orphan or destitute girls, many coming from families in the East End of London. The idea was that the home would provide a safe and comfortable environment in a (then) country setting. The girls lived in the home and went to local schools. Part of the work of the home was to train the girls in a suitable trade to ensure their economic survival in adult life. To this end, the building has a detached block to the rear, which housed laundry equipment. The girls learned, among other things, the trade of laundering and domestic service. The laundry activity also provided funds for the home and created a service for local people. In 1890 Queen Victoria’s daughter, Louise, the Marchioness of Lorne, laid the foundation stone for the building (hence the name). The home, with its twin Boys' Home (in Perry Rise and demolished around 2001), was perceived as a model of good practice in the late Victorian and Edwardian period.
The leading Polish paediatrician, teacher and children’s rights exponent Janusz Korczak famously visited it in 1911. He later said that it was the impact of this visit that made him decide not to have children of his own, but to devote his life to the rights of the child. On his return to his native Poland, Korczak started a number of children's homes in Warsaw and elsewhere, where he developed his own unique views of the rights of the child. Korczak subsequently perished under the Nazis in Treblinka concentration camp, staying with his children to the end, despite opportunities to escape. Little known in this country, he is revered in Poland and Israel. As well as many books on education and children's welfare, he wrote plays and children's stories and is regarded as one of the inspirations for the Universal Declaration on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations in the post-war period.
At some point in the twentieth century, the "Industrial" part of the name was dropped (and partially removed from the cut brick frieze on the facade). The home closed in 1933. Its use between 1933 and 1939 is unknown, but the building was used as the local Air Raid Protection headquarters during the Second World War years. In the post-war period it took on a variety of public and health uses such as family planning and offices for health visitors. It was used as Lewisham Social Services offices up until 2005 and was then disused.
V22, a multifaceted art organisation, secured the opportunity to take forward Louise House as a hub for art in 2013. Louise House was designated as a Grade II listed building in 2008 following a local ‘Save the Face of Forest Hill’ campaign. Extensive engagement with the community in 2013 revealed enormous support for an arts centre in the area. V22 secured funding from the Mayor of London’s High Street Fund and Arts Council England to help deliver this ambition. Louise House and gardens opened in summer 2016 as a new arts facility for the local community and artists following an extensive consultation and planning process. The renovated grounds reinforce this civic end of the high street whilst celebrating the Victorian buildings. The former Girls Industrial Home now accommodates 22 artists and the rear former laundry building provides a new community studio and exhibition space that overlooks the garden.
This project enabled V22 to host its Summer Club – a series of public events, exhibitions, performances, screenings and happenings in collaboration with invited programming partners and artists, as well as new partners from the local area. Bringing Louise House and its grounds into use as a community arts facility, coupled with V22’s long lease (125 years), will enable this programme and partnerships to be developed long term with the community. At a time when artists find they have to move on quite regularly due to regeneration, it is very exciting to be able to develop roots in a neighbourhood and know that we can truly become part of the community. The events coincided with the first incarnation of the Forest Hill Arts Festival organised by local people in Forest Hill.
V22 Summer Club happens concurrently with the school summer holidays. Summer Club 2018 takes place on weekends, 21 July - 26 August. For more information, please see our website.
The project exemplifies how community support and local art organisations can use vacant historic buildings to support the growth of arts and education in local communities whilst rejuvenating High Streets. V22 are particularly proud that this process of community engagement led to their community consortium being selected to run neighbouring Forest Hill Library as a community library.