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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 06:34 GMT
My London: Creating a quiet corner in Soho
Katherine William-Powlett
Mrs William-Powlett is chairman of the project and a full-time mother
Katherine William-Powlett, 38, was fed up that her children had nowhere to play in Soho, so she helped set up the Soho Green project to reclaim a previously "no-go" area for the community.

Everyone tries to put a label on Soho.

People will say it's the gay village, it's a residential area, it's theatreland, it's London's entertainment scene, it's a sex area and some people say it's where you get your drugs.

It is all those things, but that's what makes it such an interesting place to live.

I think it's a fantastic area, it's very exciting and great fun in many ways bringing up children here because everything is on your doorstep.

They can walk to school, we walk to the Tate or jump on a bus to the Science Museum.

Wardour Street

There's an incredibly strong community as well. We have a school, a church, an over-60s club, Christmas bazaars, village festivals, sports days, tombolas and all the things you traditionally associate with a village.

But most children in Soho are living in a flat and have very little outdoor space.

It's cramped, there are not many places to play outside and that's hard for them.

We approached the council about St Anne's Gardens because it was a no-go area for the public, even though it was a public area.

For years it had been a place of dealing and abuse.

There was a lot of rough sleeping and all the consequences of that, faeces and needles.

Various people at times had tried to improve things by planting prickly bushes and closing it at various times.

We wanted to find a long-term solution so it would become a very nice public space.

The Wall of Light at night - picture courtesy of Soho Green
The Wall of Light was switched on in July 2003
Soho doesn't have much outdoor space and what there is, are roundabouts like Soho Square and Golden Square.

I think the project was born out of a huge sense of indignation that what little we had wasn't available to us.

We wanted to generally improve the use [of the gardens] by having events like sports days and things that have happened traditionally like the Soho Festival.

We consulted people, got plans drawn up and found that the biggest concern was security.

What's the point of doing nice things inside the space if no-one will actually go there?

That's why we have the fence, what we call The Wall of Light.

We spent a year drawing up the plans, we had to get permission from the church and involve so many people. It was a big learning curve.

The Wall of Light was switched on in July this year, the whole street was packed with people.

We wanted to create tranquillity in the heart of Soho
Katherine William-Powlett
We had old ladies from the over-60s club, children, the school, transvestites and people coming out of clubs.

We had a really good cross section of everyone that makes up Soho.

It [The Wall of Light] tends to provoke a strong reaction.

Some people hate it, but overall I think people are very pleased because of the positive impact it has had on what was a no-go area.

In our survey about 80% liked the look of it and 100% think it improves the gardens.

I think that's a damn good result. It is innovative and it was an opportunity to secure the space and light up that part of Wardour Street which was quite dark.

We have made it a more attractive place for people to come so they won't be intimidated. We wanted to create tranquillity in the heart of Soho.

It's changed the character of the space. That's all we wanted, an open space we could feel safe in and enjoy.


My London is a series of features about life in the city which will be on News Online every Monday. If you have a story suggestion please send an e-mail to: londonnews@bbc.co.uk.




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