We recently came across the former Pioneer Health Centre, known as the ‘Peckham Experiment’ - a pioneering health centre that was the brainchild of Dr Innes Pearse and Dr George Scott Williamson. Peckham’s rich mix of working families from artisans to tradesmen, civil servants to unskilled labourers was the reason that it was selected to be the locality for the project. The centre moved in 1935 to a custom-made building on St Mary’s Road by engineer and architect Owen Williams, who was also the architect behind the Boots D10 Building, the Daily Express Building and the Empire Pool to name a few.
The centre was a pre-NHS and somewhat utopian construct to allow doctors to study human health rather than disease. The idea was to monitor the contributing factors to wellness in a community environment, and was among the first steps toward promoting the importance of prevention rather than cure.
Member families paid 6d a week and agreed to an annual health check to make use of the provided facilities, that initially consisted of the gymnasium, swimming pool and a piano. Any further facilities in the building were acquired subsequently as it was intended that any “action in the building is not to result from any professional leadership, but to arise spontaneously out of the circumstances of the environment freely impinging upon the families as they use it.”
Use of the centre faltered after the arrival of the National Health Service in 1948, and finally in 1950 the centre closed its doors to its public. It was converted into luxury flats in 2000.