Only Connect

My column for the EC1 Echo October/November 2022 edition

I live just south of Smithfield, and enjoy walking through the market buildings into Clerkenwell, via St John’s Gateway, St James Churchyard, Spa Fields and Exmouth Market. There are lots of other interesting routes, and I’ve been experimenting with different sort of maps, photos and videos to record explorations. That’s given me great insights into the shared history of EC1.

Nick Higham’s story of the New River water supply for the City, featured in the last edition of the Echo, offers one strong thread.

I may not live in Clerkenwell, but it feels a familiar and welcoming next-door neighbourhood.

But what’s it like for Clerkenwell residents to walk the other way? Is the City as interesting and welcoming … or just somewhere to visit for the Museum of London, an event in the Barbican, service in St Bartholomew the Great or St Paul’s, drink or meal in restaurants that are even more expensive than Clerkenwell?

I was nudged into think about joining up the north and south of EC1 by the editor. Oliver welcomed my article about a new square near St Paul’s, in this edition, and suggested adding a line … “It would also help to create a pedestrian route from Clerkenwell through to the Thames, knitting EC1 to the City and the river”.

What a great point. As I’ve found, reflective walks are the best ways to engage with neighbourhoods, familiar and unfamiliar. The Footways project, which promotes quiet and interesting routes throughout central London, has charted one from Angel to St Paul’s, and there are a host of other guided and self-guided walks for EC1.

The City would certainly like to be more welcoming, and as reported elsewhere in this edition is staging a major festival on October 15 to launch its long-term Destination City campaign to attract visitors and provide more entertainment for workers and residents.

The City’s Culture Mile – which is the City’s north west district including the residential area of Barbican, Barts Square, and Golden Lane – is due to become a Business Improvement District.

From surveys it’s clear that businesses rate highly projects for greening, cycling and walking, and tackling air pollution. I’m sure residents and visitors would agree – and creating the BID will provide additional funding through a levy on local firms.

However, projects just provide a better environment. It is people who create welcoming neighbourhoods, and people need places to get to know each other, and do things together.

As I wrote in my last column, community drop-in sessions at Barbican Library highlighted the need for a range of different meeting places. Clerkenwell is lucky to have the Peel at Three Corners, and Golden Lane Estate their community centre, but there’s currently nothing further south in EC1. That may change with the creation of a community room in the Barbican library.

I’ve suggested to the BID team that mapping local assets to create a neighbourhood guide could help us make more of what we have.

We could do with better joining-up of our lives online. We gather in many different places on social media, and via email threads, but there is no one commonspace.

One proposal for the BID is a community forum, and it is tempting to suggest a complementary online forum for the area. That might work for BID-related discussions, but generally it can be difficult to engage people and facilitate discussion on a new platform. Both Barbican and Golden Lane already have their own.

My hunch is the best way to systematically build some new connections is to identify the human connectors – whether that’s their professional role or personal enthusiasm – and offer ways to meet up. Those would be fun gatherings, both in-person and online. If you agree, get in touch.

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