Yesterday I caught the train to central London and went for a stroll down memory lane.
It was the thirtieth anniversary of the Calthorpe Project, which is in the Grays Inn Road not far from Kings Cross station. When my daughters were young we lived nearby, in a flat close to Chancery Lane station. Though it was the middle of London, in many ways it was like living in a village within a city. Local people all knew each other, especially if you had small children. There were also lots of facilities offered by the local council. There was somewhere to go every day. I took my children to baby gym, ballet, gymnastics, messy play, rhyme time, the library, Parents and Co, Corams Fields and of course the Calthorpe drop-in, which was my second home.
The Cathorpe was a green oasis surrounded by a mix of industrial buildings and Georgian houses. It was earmarked for expensive flats but the local people campaigned to turn it into community gardens and social space. Thirty years later the project is still flourishing. When I lived there, twice a week there was a mother/father and toddler group as well as classes and other groups. Since most families lived in flats it was a safe outdoor space for children to play or if wet, somewhere to go and play with other children while the mums chatted. One mum even used to prepare her potatoes and vegetables for that evening’s dinner, while chatting.
Summers meant the Mela and the Latin Festivals, plenty of music, dancing, food and drink with a strong South American and Asian flavour. I had the best home-made curries there and danced till late to a mixture of Latin and British music.
For those who see London as cold and unfriendly, the Calthorpe offers a real hub of community, a place where different cultures blend together.
I had received an invite to the birthday celebrations from the crèche worker, Teresa who looked after us all so well when we were harassed mums of toddlers. Twenty years later she is still the heart of Calthorpe. Because of the recent death of my husband, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go but having nothing else to do, I decided to make the effort.
It was strange and somewhat bitter-sweet returning to familiar streets. I lived there for twelve years in three different flats. Forgotten memories came flooding back as I walked the length of Grays Inn Road past my old home, shops and my daughter’s old primary school. Walking over the little bridge into the Calthorpe, I looked down at my feet. The mosaic squares we spent hours making all those years ago were still set into the concrete path, including mine. I remember so vividly working on it, choosing a design, selecting colours, cutting, sticking. A fun time, filled with creativity.
When I first started at the Calthorpe when Claire, who is now twenty five, was a few months old, there was only a ramshackle prefab hut at the back but it was warm and friendly inside. Funding was given and money raised so that the current wooden, chalet style building could be built. It hasn’t changed in over twenty years.
Watching the children performing flamenco dancing, a glass of wine at my side and barbecued corn on the cob in my hand, I thought I’d stay for an hour or so then go home but as I sat in the small outdoor, arena, I spotted a familiar face that took me back twenty four years. My daughter and hers were friends so Brita and I became friends as did her husband and mine. I still kept in contact via my annual Christmas newsletter but we hadn’t seen each other for about eighteen years.
It was so good catching up, swapping photos and facebook details. Her husband, John joined us as did another old friend whose four children played with mine. For a while, time slipped back and I heard the echo of my kids running around, laughing, playing, chasing their friends, returning to me only when they wanted food, drink or a hug
In the end, I stayed till it grew dark, danced to the excellent rock band, drank wine and memories.