The Waterloo Action Centre building was constructed in 1893 as a public library. It remained in use for this purpose until the early 1960s. Although it successfully survived the intense local bombardment Waterloo suffered during the Second World War, the building had been poorly maintained. By the 1960s it was considered a health and safety hazard and was closed down and vacated. The old library remained empty for about 10 years.
From 1971 however community development was beginning in Waterloo, and two local charities (Blackfriars Settlement and Lady Margaret Hall Settlement, then at Kennington) got together to consider the needs and lack of services in the Waterloo area.
A multi-service group of agencies formed (local churches, schools, and social services) in order to find a way forward and it was decided to employ a community worker, based with Blackfriars Settlement, in order to see what could be done for Waterloo. Lambeth Social Services funded this post.
In 1973 it became clear that the office that the Community Worker had been using on Morley St would vanish in redevelopment. The emerging Association of Waterloo Groups (AWG) turned its eyes on the empty Library. Local Councillors Verdun and Lane worked hard to help, and a license on a peppercorn rent was agreed with Lambeth Council.
As soon as the keys were obtained, the building was opened to local people to inspect and consultation began on the changes which should be made. The firm intention was that from the first there should be local control. A small grant was provided by Lambeth for key changes. The remainder of the work of renovation was done by local effort.
A community charity, Waterloo Action Centre, was formed to take on responsibility for the premises. The Management Committee was carefully structured to ensure community control, but also including spaces for users and for Association of Waterloo Groups on behalf of the wider community. There are also places for directly elected individuals. An enormous amount of work has taken place over the years to improve the building. Some of this has been constant small-scale enhancement and re-decoration for which we are very grateful to a range of local people, local shops and workforce (including Costains HQ staff) for fundraising efforts and grants.
Waterloo Action Centre Management Committee have also obtained grants for major structural works. While these works have secured the basic structure of the building, greatly enhanced existing space and brought new space into use, there is still important work to be done in order to maximise the potential of the building.