Inside Equitable House: Woolwich landmark gets £1.4m revamp

Equitable House
Equitable House has been a Woolwich landmark for over 80 years, but has been under-used for the past 30 years

Woolwich’s Equitable House is to finally get a new lease of life with flats nearing completion on the upper floors – with the building’s owner hoping it can make a contribution to the revival of the town centre.

For 54 years until 1989, the striking building on General Gordon Square was the headquarters of the former Woolwich Equitable Building Society, which moved to Bexleyheath before being absorbed into Barclays Bank in 2000.

The banking hall – now used as the Woolwich Equitable pub – remained in use until 2007, while the upper floors were taken over by a college.

Now the upper floors have been converted into nine flats by developer Paul Tearle, whose Coffee Lounge business downstairs is a sponsor of 853.

But the total cost of the development grew to £1.4million after it was discovered the building suffered from “Regent Street disease” – a syndrome which affects many buildings of its age, not just in London but in other UK cities and even in Chicago skyscrapers.

Equitable House
“Regent Street disease” is common in many buildings from the 1920s and 1930s

Tearle says: “It occurs in some buildings constructed during the first half of the 20th century using a steel frame embedded within the facing stone, where water ingress corrodes the steel frame structure, and in turn, cracks and loosens all the Portland stone.

“The whole of the ring main steels supporting the roof and the clock tower had to be replaced which meant removing all the brickwork and Portland stone from these areas replacing all the steels and then rebuilding using old stock bricks and original Portland stone.”

Woolwich view
A panorama of Woolwich from one of the Equitable House flats

After shelling out for the work to be done, Tearle says: “We can now say with confidence the building is structurally sound for at least another 100 years.”

All nine flats have three bedrooms and three bathrooms – they are “specifically designed for the sharers market to bring the maximum people into the town centre”, Tearle says. He is also hoping to get consent from Greenwich Council to be able to hire them out as holiday lets.

“Commercially, it gives us flexibly and so the best chance of making sure the building is fully utilised in these uncertain times,” he adds.

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Elements of the old HQ building – safes and doors – have been restored and put to new uses in the building.

The development comes after what Tearle calls a “challenging year” for the commercial tenants of Equitable House, with the Coffee Lounge being affected by gangs threatening staff and customers.

Equitable House
The final flat conversions are now under way

“We decided enough was enough and began a concerted and sustained social media campaign, which managed to get the powers that be at the council and police to act.”

Now the Coffee Lounge has given Greenwich Council £25,000 to fund a street scrubbing machine for use in the square. “We expect to see the Coffee Lounge Street cleaner in and around General Gordon Square on a regular basis,” he says.

Woolwich Equitable sign
Elements of the old Woolwich Equitable HQ have been put to new uses

The China City buffet, a chemist and convenience store are among the other ground floor tenants, with a health centre on the upper ground floor. The Metro Centre, which provides services for LGBT people, is on the first floor, while the second floor business centre provides affordable and flexible office space for start-up and small businesses.

New “more suitable” tenants will be sought for the bookmakers’ unit on Greens End once existing leases have come to an end.

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