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Cover of Ever Stronger report

Ever Stronger is the motto on Enfield's coat of arms. The Enfield Society thinks that through collaboration a stronger solution can be found.

When news leaked out in March that major changes were planned for the building in Enfield Town that houses the Dugdale Centre, there was an immediate outcry from groups and individuals that use the public facilities it houses. Undeterred, a few days later the borough's cabinet agreed to go ahead with a plan to set up a centralised children and families hub on the first and second floors, despite, it seems, not having identified a suitable new home for the borough's well regarded archives and local history library.

Since March, local civic sector organisations have been seeking in vain to enter into satisfactory dialogue with the council about the future of the archives and the Museum of Enfield. They have now published an alternative plan which, they say, would not only allow the museum and archives to remain at the Dugdale, along with conference facilities and rooms for hire by community organisations, but would actually save more money than the council's proposal.

Concerns about the future of Enfield's museum and archives

The lead organisation behind the counter proposals is the Enfield Society, which last week sent them to the council and published them on its website under the title Ever Stronger: Revising Enfield Council's plans on Dugdale Centre/Thomas Hardy House (affecting museums, archives, conference suite and children's and youth services). The Society, along with other local heritage societies and the Museum of London, is greatly concerned about the future of the museum and archives, which only a few years ago were threatened with significant reductions but have since gained recognition at national level.

A further concern is a likely diminishment of the role of the Dugdale as a central meeting point for the borough's residents. The first floor at the Dugdale Centre draws in 60,000 plus people a year, so another risk for the current proposal is the impact on the economic health of Enfield Town

Splitting the new hub

The Enfield Society welcomes the concept of a centralised children and youth services hub, but suggests that only part of it should be housed in Thomas Hardy House (the official name of the building housing the Dugdale Centre). It would be on the second floor, replacing various council offices currently located there, which are due to be moved to the Civic Centre. To preserve the confidentiality of families visiting the Hub, they would use a separate street entrance, staircase and lift. The back offices for the children's and youth services would be accommodated in the Civic Centre, where rooms are available. The two parts of the hub would be within walking distance of one another in the same highly accessible town centre - currently the services are located in three different locations, separated by distances of between two and a half and three and a half miles.

enfield society logo wide

The Enfield Society says its alternative proposals would avoid...

  • Cutting the public museum space by half
  • Cutting a half million pound conference suite facility
  • Consequent minimum loss in annual income from the conference suite of £100,000+
  • Relegating the bespoke built Archives service and moving it away from the museum
  • Losing footfall of 60,000+ to the Dugdale Centre and Enfield Town

...and offer ways to

  • Reduce the planned costs
  • Increase financial returns and attract new investment
  • Factor in the vast shift away from fixed office working post Covid-19
  • Utilise the 1500 square metres of new office space soon available at the Civic Centre
  • Future proof the Dugdale Centre for increased hire and shift in use of public space
  • Avoid large costs of moving archives and fitting out new space
  • Avoid large costs for permanent remodelling of Thomas Hardy House/Dugdale Centre
  • Work positively with council stakeholders
  • Use museums and archives services as part of the council’s post Covid-19 resilience

dugdale old proposalThe council's current plan

dugdale new proposalThe alternative proposed by the Enfield Society

Under the Enfield Society proposals, permanent museum displays, local history archives and conference suite/rooms for hire would remain in their present locations, on the first floor of the Dugdale Centre. The council's plans would mean a greatly downsized museum, on the ground floor only. The archives, sitting on flooring that was specially reinforced in 2009, would be moved elsewhere - but the council has yet to say where. And it would appear that the conference facilities, which earn the council money and bring people into Enfield Town, would simply cease to exist.

How the news leaked out

save our dugdale petition screenshot

This petition quickly spread the word that changes were planned. It has now been signed by more than 2000 people

In spite of the regular publicity emails being sent by the council, the public was given no hint of the planned changes, and there was absolutely no consultation. The news broke only a week before the cabinet meeting on 11th March where the proposals were approved, and then probably by accident. The various groups that hired the rooms on the second floor for various cultural activities received notice they would not be available after the summer because of impending changes in the building, and when this came to the attention of Love Your Doorstep an online petition was launched.

Enfield Dispatch headline about the Dugdale Centre

Archaeologists are among those fearing for the future of the museum and archives

The vacuum in official information was inevitably filled by exaggerated rumours, for instance that the whole of the Dugdale Centre was closing, including the theatre, museum and cafe, and an accusation that  the council "have plunged a dagger deep into the heart of culture in Enfield". Only after the petition was launched did the council issue a statement to its own staff explaining about the new children and families hub and admitting that the changes "may inconvenience a small number of organisations which hire space there".

Notably missing was any mention of the museum or the archives. But the Enfield Society, Enfield Archaeological Society, Edmonton Hundred Historical Society and other civic sector bodies were quick to spot a threat to these valued facilities. However, their attempts to discover the council's intentions were long frustrated, initially because the coronavirus outbreak was taking up all its attention, but later because the council seemed uninterested in a meaningful dialogue.

Instead of being invited to collaborate in looking at options for the future of the Dugdale, the Enfield Society and its partners have been brushed off by the council. Their patience exhausted, they have now done the work using their own resources, and are even offering to contribute financially to improving the public experience of the museum and archives.

I'm not qualified to judge the practicability of the Enfield Society's alternative ideas, but they certainly seem worth serious consideration and will be welcomed by everyone who appreciates the valuable and life-enriching resources on the Dugdale's first floor, whether they be local historians, researchers into family history, poets gathering for their monthly readings, people discussing philosophy or just ordinary families curious about how we lived our lives in years gone by.

The children's services hub is an excellent idea and the council's continuing efforts to rationalise its estate make perfect sense. But it shouldn't even think of making such major changes to one of its few flagship buildings without prior engagement with the public.

Enfield Council, like local authorities throughout the country, is seriously underresourced, meaning that it can't afford not to take advantage of the accumulated expertise and many decades of institutional memory that our civic sector societies embody.

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