It’s hard to imagine what the founding members of The London Society would think of how their beloved city has developed but I am confident that they would be delighted and surprised that the organisation they founded in 1912 was still going strong over 100 years later and at its heart, the aims and the values of the society remain intact.
In his essay for London of the Future, Neal Shasore notes that ‘the Founders of The London Society were a motley crew of progressives drawn from the architectural world and wider civil society.’ I can confirm that there has been no change on that front and like the founders, the current motley crew of trustees, staff and volunteers have the same drive and determination to make London better. They dedicate their time, intellect and energy to ‘translating and bringing clarity’ to how and why London’s built environment changes through talks and tours and seeking new ideas (and sometimes reviving old ideas) via debate, discussion and advocacy.
And I hope that you share my pride in what the society has achieved in 2023. Here are some of my highlights:
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LONDON OF THE FUTURE
Top of the list was the publication of the second edition of London of the Future. The first edition was published in 1921 and had influence and impact. In 2022, the trustees took the decision to repeat the process as we still believed that long-form writing is central to generating, articulating and discussing ideas. Considering the economic environment, it wasn’t a no-risk project, but led by our Director, Rob Fiehn, and supported by generous sponsors and a successful crowd-funding campaign, the book was published in the Autumn to critical acclaim.
The book has generated interest from around the world and we anticipate that the impact and ‘shelf life’ of the essays from the 20 writers will be measured in decades.
PODCAST PROGRAMMES: LONDON EXPLAINED
2023 marked the moment the society stepped into the world of podcast platforms with the release of the first of a series of programmes. Titled London Explained, the episodes are written and presented by our trustee and journalist Dave Hill and produced by Andrew McGibbon. The term podcast is misleading – these are professionally produced and researched radio programmes that would not be out of place on the BBC Radio 4 schedule. It’s our intention to continue with these programmes with each episode focusing on an area of London undergoing significant change. Please have a listen if you haven’t already and share with friends, family and colleagues.
With the help of our volunteer, Iria Suárez, we have also put in place an impressive process for identifying and reviewing books about London that we believe you will be interested in. Iria liaises with authors and publishers and then identifies someone to review the book. We are so very grateful to Iria, but also the reviewers who take the time to read the book and then commit their thoughts to paper, which is more time consuming and difficult than you think. If you would like to be added to the list of reviewers, please contact Iria at: email@example.com.
TALKS AND DEBATES
It has been a stellar year for talks and debates as we have attracted a truly first rate range of speakers and panellists whose work directly impacts Londoners. Highlights have included:
The demand for our tours continued to grow and they are often sold out within the hour of when they are posted. Under the guidance of our Programme Manager, Rowena Ellims, we continue to research and use our connections to get access to the most interesting parts of London. We are so grateful to the organisations who have worked with us for many years to make these tours possible but have been delighted to welcome London’s Air Ambulance, the Neasden Temple, JW3 Community Centre and the Baitul Futuh Mosque into the society’s list of new partners.
LOVE LETTERS TO LONDON
Our Love Letters to London competition was conceived during the pandemic to lift our spirits. However, the competition has been adopted as a much-anticipated highlight of the year, attracting hundreds of entries from London lovers all over the world. The 2023 winners can be found here and it is a privilege to be at the awards ceremony where professional actors read out the winning entries. You can’t help but be moved by the talent and skill of the writers who are able to articulate what so many of us feel about London.
Under the guidance of our Content Curator, Fiona Keating, a number of trustees will spend the Christmas period sifting through the many entries for the 2024 competition.
WHAT DOES THE LONDON SOCIETY THINK?
Throughout the year, a number of organisations have invited the society to take part in consultations for new developments or projects. Whilst the society is not a ‘statutory consultee’, it is heartening to be consulted for our experience and expertise and our aim is to have a positive impact.
We are also continuing to engage with politicians and other civic leaders who impact London. For obvious reasons, this will be a focus for 2024.
Thank you to the continuing support of you, our members who are engaged and active in so many aspects of the society’s work. I am delighted that we have been able to grow our membership this year with a new group of members under 30. The free membership offer, soft launched in the Autumn has attracted a new group of members who want to take an active role in London’s civic life.
If you are a member and wish to take volunteer for any aspect of our work, please contact me directly at Chair@londonsociety.org.uk.
Leaving the best for last. We have known for some time that our current website is hard to navigate, and many aspects of its operation have been superseded by new technology. Over the last 6 months we have been working to have our website upgraded, helping you to find information and make bookings more easily. We will let you know when it goes live. We are impatient to launch.
Finally, I would like to wish the many hundreds of individuals, partners and sponsors for supporting the society and the work that we do. Their help comes in many forms – access to venues, financial support for projects, expertise and professional assistance, volunteering, the list goes on. We simply could not function without you all.
London has an important year ahead in 2024 with many challenges to solve and achievements to celebrate and we will need more Londoners like you to help make our wonderful city better.
In the meantime, I wish you a safe, happy and joyous festive season with your family and friends and look forward to seeing you in 2024.
With warmest regards,
Chair, The London Society