Walworth Garden

London celebrates Open House Festival across the capital

The Open House Festival has opened the doors to buildings across London, inviting its visitors to explore hundreds of sites from all 33 boroughs. 

Places taking part in the festival include private houses, gardens, companies’ headquarters, blocks of flats, housing estates, museums, theaters and many more.

However, the fair isn’t only about walking in and out of spaces otherwise closed to the general public.

In this year’s programme are neighbourhood guided walks, architects’ talks, drop-ins, and guided tours around some of London’s most recognisable buildings, as well as hidden gems.

The purpose

Hafsa Adan, Assistant Curator of the London Open House Festival explained: “It celebrates the community and what it means to be a Londoner.

“Everyone who contributes to the festival for the most part does it for free. People open their houses for free, people run these tours for free.

“Sometimes there are tours that they might on the yearly basis charge people to go on to, but during the festival they do it for free.

“It is for the love of the festival itself, but also for the love of London. The whole point of the festival is to make our city more open and accessible to a wider audience and make sure that everyone feels that they can engage with things like this.” 

Adan listed some of the most popular sites and events during this year’s Open House Festival: the BT Tower, Downing Street, the New Museum of London, and Alexandra Road Estate.

Being a visitor

However, it’s not only well known locations that attract visitors and offer unique experiences. 

Partly occupied, office buildings Getaway Central and Getaway West, in White City are two of those sites that many of us pass by without knowing their history or realising their purpose. 

The two, together with four others, make up the White City Place which is a collection of buildings formerly known as BBC Media Village. 

WHITE CITY PLACE: The former site of the BBC Media Village

Environmentally minded people will appreciate these architectural marvels, as the White City Place is carbon neutral and 100% powered by renewable energy.

Moreover, on one of the Getaway West external walls there are a few tiny holes, behind which are hollow spaces, serving as nesting spaces for birds and bats. 

Paul Steeples, a retired civil servant and a visitor to Getaway Central and Getaway West shared his experience after taking part in a guided tour.

He said: “It was interesting to see the buildings with no occupants. To go into an office building that hasn’t been fitted out yet and see an empty space.”

Steeples, who has been an active visitor to the festival since it began in the 1990s, guided one of the tours around Oval, where he lives.

A participant’s viewpoint

However, the festival is not only featuring grandiose buildings and city landmarks, as it also provides space for tiny gems, hidden spots and open spaces.

Located half a mile south of Elephant and Castle, Walworth Garden is undoubtedly one of them. 

Not only it is one of those tiny havens for all living creatures but its history is quite remarkable. 

HIDDEN GEM: Walworth Garden in Southwark

Dating back to the late 1980s, after it was decided to allow residents to create a community growing space on this one-third of an acre piece of land, work began to turn this wild growing space into a city farm. 

After years of hard work and communities coming together the Walworth Garden now provides a learning space for those willing to get to know more about horticulture.

Oliver Haden, the CEO of Walworth Garden said: “The building is of significance. It was designed by Matrix Feminist Design Co-Operative and built by women, which is a rarity.

It’s maybe the only example in London that exists and was built by that feminist co-operative, so it’s of social significance.

“We absolutely love the building. In this heat it is the coolest place to be and when it’s cold it’s the warmest place to be. They say that women design buildings for people, and it’s so true.”

Haden said the goal behind the garden’s participation in the festival was to make the greater public aware of its existence, as it is off the beaten track and has been labelled south London’s best kept secret.

Contributing to the festival will hopefully raise its profile and educate the public about the social and cultural significance of the building.

The very beginning

What started back in 1992 as a quirky idea of Victoria Thornton to open to the public a handful of mostly private houses, for the last three decades has grown enormously to attract more than 800 sites with a crowd of visitors greater than Glastonbury.

The Open House Festival runs until Sunday.

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