Monday 21st October 2013 marked the 75th anniversary of the day Finsbury Health Centre was first opened in 1938. Under the direction of Chairman of the Public Health Committee Dr. Chuni Katial, Finsbury Borough Council commissioned Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin and his firm Tecton to design the health centre, which has since been recognised as one of the masterworks of 20th century modern architecture.
Seventy five years to the day, over 350 people packed into the foyer to celebrate the event, with speeches by the Mayoress of Islington, Marisha Ray (whose grandfather worked with Dr. Katial the original client), Martin Klute (Chair of Islington Health Scrutiny Committee), Dr Iona Heath (Past President of the Royal College of General Practitioners), Martyn Hill (of NHS Property Services, the building owner), Barbara Jacobson (Chair of the Finsbury Health Centre Preservation Trust) and John Allan of Avanti Architects.
The facility broke new ground in 1938 rationalizing the hitherto scattered and haphazard health provision across the borough into a systematic open-access polyclinic equipped with state of the art facilities. Its original range of services included a TB clinic, dispensary and laboratory, a solarium, dental and podiatry clinics, a cleansing and disinfection station, mortuary, reception flat for displaced families, accommodation for administration, paramedicals and officers of the Public Health Department and also a 70-seat lecture hall.
Finsbury Health Centre, anticipating the advent of the NHS by a clear decade and now listed Grade I, has provided healthcare services continuously since the day it opened.
It remains an indispensable facility for the local community and a model of legible planning and design for any architect involved in healthcare work today. For many years however the building has suffered from inadequate maintenance and for a recent period was at risk of being sold and its NHS services dispersed. Following a vigorous local campaign to retain the centre in NHS use this prospect has receded. Under the new arrangements introduced by the Health and Social Care Act (2012) NHS Property Services Ltd (NHSPS) now owns and administers the building.
A partial restoration project in the mid-1990s carried out by Avanti Architects demonstrated the feasibility of restoring all aspects of the building within the parameters of its listed status. Moreover, provision for its future adaptation to serve changing clinical programmes was always anticipated in the original design. The Finsbury Health Centre Preservation Trust (FHCPT) who organised the party, has recently been formed as a registered charity to work for the full restoration and upgrade of the building. FHCPT will be working with NHSPS, building users and other stakeholders to assist in this process by providing technical expertise, seeking additional funding and promoting wider awareness of the building’s unique social and architectural significance.
The attached images by Avanti Architects offer an image of what the restored centre could look like. Citing Finsbury Council’s motto, the Latin maxim Altiora Petimus – ‘we seek higher things’ – John Allan concluded his speech by suggesting the best way to honour the achievement of the original creators of this visionary building on its 75th birthday would be to ensure it survives and prospers for the next 75 years.
The story of the fight to save Finsbury Health Centre can be found on www.savefhc.org.uk A special entry to mark the 75th anniversary of Finsbury Health Centre has been posted by English Heritage www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage…/landmark-listings