Activists hopeful of Earl’s Court regeneration two years after demolition of venue

“Most people probably think Earl’s Court still exists. They don’t know it’s gone,” writes Duggie Fields, an artist and a member of the Save Earls Court campaign team.

He is just one of many people, still disillusioned by the demolition of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre two and a half years ago, trying to restore their beloved area to its former glory.

Although he never had the pleasure of presenting his own work at the Exhibition Centre he, along with the majority of residents in the area, recognises the strong economic and community value it held.

David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Ideal Home Show, Victoria’s Secret and even the Olympics had all benn hosted by the 20,000 capacity venue, with the list of weird and wonderful events held there being seemingly endless.

Originally opening in 1887, the venue brought in roughly 1.5 million people every year to the area and contributed around £285 million to the economies of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.

Demolition of the Exhibition Centre began in 2014 with plans for 7,500 new homes, offices and shops expected to be completed by 2033.

In the meantime however, the shops, hotels and restaurants there are still suffering greatly and are struggling to recover from the loss of business the venue brought – and this is not likely to be remedied by more shops being introduced.

On the evening of June 26, a report was launched at City Hall entitled ‘Earls Court: Rescue, Recovery and Renaissance’, outlining the campaign’s concerns for current suffering businesses and their hopes for the future of Earl’s Court as a community.

London Assembly Member Caroline Russell, representing the Green party, helped the campaign to launch their report to great success.

She said: “This year would have been the 80th birthday of the Earls Court Exhibition centre, and it was wonderful last night to meet the campaigners.”

Ms Russell is concerned about the process of regeneration that is sweeping away established businesses and harming those who manage to remain.

“This is an example of how not to do regeneration in London,” she said.

“If you ignore the businesses, if you ignore the context, then you are going to run into problems like they’re running into at Earl’s Court now. It just feels dead.

“There was a pub I’d been in 18 months ago, it was a very, vibrant lovely pub and I went last week and it was completely boarded up. The more boarded up places there are the more people think it’s just a down at heel area.

“The area needs something that picks up on the creativity and energy that the old Exhibition Centre used to have.”

This ‘something’ is an exciting proposal for a green venue that would sit at number one on the World Green Venue report and would be registered as an Asset of Community Value to protect it from future demolition.

The campaign want the venue to have enough space to continue its Olympics hosting legacy, use solar panels for renewable power and have ‘living walls’ or urban food growing capabilities that can be utilised and maintained by the community.

They want their proud heritage to be genuinely at the heart of the new venue and for publicly owned aspects to ensure its purpose is being kept true to what it was built for: community, longevity and international entertainment.

As Ms Russell pointed out to me, people across the whole city have very fond memories of events in Earl’s Court and the venue truly mattered to those who lived around it, not just as a means of income but as something to be proud to call your own.

Bella Hardwicke, spokesperson for the Save Earls Court report, had lived in the area for over 30 years before the dust from the demolition affected her allergies and forced her out.

As soon as our conversation came to discussing what the area was like before the demolition, she was immediately excitedly reminiscent of her beloved Earl’s Court and you could hear this love in her voice.

“I lived very close to the Exhibition Centre and I found it an amazing building, and area. It was a real privilege to live next to something where every week there was something big going on,” she said.

“It brought a lot of people to the area and there was always a buzz. As a small business owner, to exhibit there was really special. Since it was demolished that area has been so dead and it has lost something really special,” she continued.

‘Dead’ is a word that has come up a lot when speaking with people about the impact of the demolition but people are hopeful and sure that the area can resurrect itself from the loss of the Exhibition Centre, with the right help.

Moving forward from the report, the Save Earls Court campaign are looking to keep open a dialogue about what options the area has besides more homes and shops.

Ms Hardwick says the team are keen to look to the future and not just at what they have lost, and they vow to continue fighting until they have something they feel is a suitable alternative.

She is enthusiastic about an international architecture competition to design a new venue, bringing global attention to the cause and helping the international community get involved.

For Ms Russell, she can help guide the formalities of the next steps and she wants to ensure that other communities don’t suffer like Earl’s Court has.

“The next step is to make sure the Mayor’s planning guidance in the London plan is really well drafted, that it makes sure that existing businesses are thought about and properly considered before any new regeneration project,” she said.

The campaign team felt they weren’t being listened to by the right people but hopefully, now their concerns and aspirations have been outlined in their report, the community will be more included in the regeneration of the area and it can become a collaborative success for all.

“We just need to lift our imaginations higher than the immediate bottom line of short-term economic justifications presented by developers,” says Mr Fields, and he’s not the only one who truly believes this can happen.

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