New plans approved to improve the Commemorative Site of union founder Will Thorne

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Plans have been approved (14th May 2024) to protect and enhance a historic site linked to Will Thorne, one of East London’s most important social reformers.

Will Thorne Pavilion, on Stansfeld Road by Beckton Park pitches, will shortly get a new lease of life after Newham’s Strategic Development Committee voted to approve local community use for the building, structural upgrades to the cafe, more cycle spaces and better landscaping of the surrounding area.

Currently, the Will Thorne Pavilion is a single-storey building largely closed to the public and these changes have been welcomed by many as a means to reinvigorate this community asset.

The pavilion itself was first constructed to commemorate the life of Will Thorne, a former West Ham Borough Councillor and Mayor (1917-8). Thorne, born into grinding poverty and illiterate, moved to London in 1882 and was eventually taught to read by social activist Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx. In 1889 he founded the Gasworkers’ Union on the site where Canning Town Library now sits.

The union started as Britain’s first successful general union, representing working people, open to both women and men, and those marginalised as semi-skilled and unskilled workers disregarded as unable to organise. GMB union which started with only 800 members, now is the UK's third largest with over 500,000 members; representing people across manufacturing, commercial and public services. In November 2022, Newham Council also approved the mounting of a roundel plaque on the side of Canning Town Library to commemorate the birthplace of GMB.

Thorne later became the Labour MP for Plaistow, being first elected in 1918 with a record 95% of the vote, with his parliamentary career ending in 1945, when he retired aged 87.

Warren Kenny, GMB London Regional Secretary said:

"Our union would not be here today if it was not for Will Thorne and those brave members who joined him in creating GMB. Our rich history is one with roots seen throughout the east of London, so I am pleased to see that this commemorative site is protected, improved and continues to bear the name of our founder for many years to come”.

Cllr James Beckles, added: “I am really happy we could get this through committee, the Will Thorne Pavilion is a community asset that should be used and enjoyed by many residents. It is also important that we retain our history as a borough and celebrate those who did so much for our community”.

Unmesh Desai, local London Assembly Member said :

“I am proud that this decision has been approved. We cannot afford for community assets to not be used. Will Thorne embodies the spirit of so many local people, protecting the pavilion is the best way we can protect his legacy, as it embodies who he was, a communitarian who dedicated himself to the public good”.