Destination Clerkenwell?

Update: The EC1 Echo has now published a column promoting the idea of Destination Clerkenwell

Last year the City Corporation launched Destination City to increase footfall for ailing visitor attractions, bars and restaurants. Would Clerkenwell benefit from an initiative to promote sustainable tourism?

The current edition of the EC1 Echo has a host of articles about Clerkenwell history, and I’m working on a project to celebrate The Peel Institute’s 125th anniversary featured there. I’ve also floated the idea of a Museum of the Streets.

These and earlier articles in the Echo about local history remind me why I find it so engaging to stroll from Farringdon, where I live, through Smithfield Market, St John’s Gate and Spa Fields to the Angel.

Footways route from Farringdon to Angel

St John’s Gate

Clerkenwell Green

The Living Streets Footways project has created a trail with key points of interest. One idea we are working on is an associated walk about the radical history of Clerkenwell, which Peel director Olu Alake refers to in his article:

“What is in the DNA of the area that infuses successive generations of leaders of the organisation with the passion and zeal to tackle social issues and dedicate itself to making the area a more equal society?

“This is particularly enthralling when one considers the myriad other radical social characters and organisations that have made Clerkenwell its base through the past 125 years and even long before: The Chartists and Suffragettes met here, Karl Marx lived here, Dickens walked through and wrote about here, Lenin worked here, Gordonists rioted, prisons stormed, radical presses and bookstores established, LGBTQ people found sanctuary, – all in this area”.

There is so much to explore in Clerkenwell today – at historic venues like The Charterhouse, Museum of the Order of St John and Marx Memorial Library as well as pubs, cafes and shops. Exmouth Market is buzzing. For a deep dive into history visit the London Metropolitan Archives.

The idea of The Peel project is to help bring together these many strands. Olu writes:

“Through this 125th anniversary year and beyond, we want to explore these rich seams of local history that have had national significance, and the related socio-economic and cultural themes that have resonated and endured through time. We want to utilise the rich archives of the area and work with local heritage and cultural organisations and individuals to bring this history alive using 21st century technology”.

I’ve outlined in an earlier blog post how we might do that using maps, digital media, virtual tours and on-the-ground walks … but the challenge is to agree a framework that would carry beyond the Peel’s anniversary year, and those of others featured in the Echo.

How might organisations come together to offer a rich experiences to visitors, workers and residents? What’s the story that would bring together the many attractions that Clerkenwell can offer?

Celebrating Clerkenwell is a bit weak. Connecting Clerkenwell is the Peel’s mission, but around what theme?

Across the borough boundary in the City of London the Corporation is focussed on the Destination City programme, which is taking over the earlier Culture Mile project in EC1. More on that here.

The main purpose is to attract visitors to help support the City economy, which is suffering from a fall in the number of workers in town, particularly on Monday and Friday. “Increase footfall” is the cry.

However, visitors are not necessarily a great boon to residential areas, and chatting to my neighbours I hear concerns about what development we may see when Smithfield Market moves in a few years. Not just another Covent Garden, please.

That set me wondering about how to balance the interests of business, workers, residents and visitors – something that I hope will exercise the board of the new Business Improvement District for the Culture Mile area.

In an earlier blog post I posed the question Can Destination City also help create a Liveable City? and suggested that a Museum of the Streets and community information systems might complement the bigger visitor projects planned by the City. Plan together how everyone might benefit from sustainable tourism as a component in a Liveable City.

I dropped into that blog post this idea:

“Offer visitors arriving on the Elizabeth Line walks, talks, maps and other ways to explore the rich history of the area in displays at venues and on smartphones. Virtual tours can preview what’s on offer in the City – and in Clerkenwell. Take the Farringdon exit for Destination Clerkenwell. Design collaboratively to minimise disturbance yet boost trade and support venues”.

I love Living in the City of London, but on the ground Clerkenwell is rather more interesting.

Is Destination Clerkenwell worth exploring, as a collaborative project, balancing various interests? I guess that visitors will come anyway, so why not make the best of it.

Just my own suggestion at this stage.

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