This Week in London – Young V&A marks 150 years; West End LIVE; and, Hackney’s Ayah’s Home commemorated…

Young V&A creative Story Telling session. PICTURE: Courtesy of Young V&A

The V&A is celebrating 150 years since the opening of the Bethnal Green Museum (now known as the Young V&A) with the launch of a year long celebration on Friday. The museum, which opened in 1872 as the first ever museum in east London, is currently undergoing a major redevelopment and is scheduled to reopen in summer, 2023, as a new national museum dedicated to children to the age of 14. To mark the 150th – and a year until Young V&A’s opening – the museum has launched a year-long ‘Reinvent Festival’ with the first event – an online summit called Sparking Creative Futures headlined by children’s author, Ed Vere, and live-illustrated by Beano’s youngest ever artist, Zoom Rockman – on Friday. On Sunday, Young V&A will celebrate its birthday with families at Rich Mix’s ‘Everyone a Maker’ event with free, fun activities. Further events will be held over the year including pop ups at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s Great Get Together on 23rd July featuring large-scale, creative construction and making sessions for children and families using playful building materials by Hackney-based architect Emilie Quene. For more (including the full programme of events), see www.vam.ac.uk/blog/museum-life/reinvent-festival-young-va-summer-family-events.

Europe’s biggest free musical theatre festival – West End LIVE – will transform Trafalgar Square into an open-air theatre this weekend. A joint production by Westminster City Council and the Society of London Theatre, the event will feature hundreds of performers, creatives and production staff, showcasing the best the West End has to offer. No tickets are required for the free event. For more, head to www.westendlive.co.uk.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque has been unveiled on a house in Hackney, commemorating the hundreds of stranded and sometimes abandoned South and East Asian nannies, known as ayahs, who sheltered there in the early 20th century. The Ayah’s Home at 26 King Edward’s Road housed around 100 women a year between 1900 and 1921 after which the home moved to another address nearby. The ayahs were women who served the British in India and other colonies as children’s nannies, nursemaids and ladies’ maids and who were sometimes required to care for babies, children and their sea-sick mothers on the long sea voyage from the colonies to England but who were generally not expected to serve the families once they arrived, instead either contracted to wait until needed for the return journey or take a passage home. The Hackney shelter, which also welcomed ‘amahs’ – nursemaids of East Asian origin, appears to have been the only one of its kind in Britain for almost the whole of its existence. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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This Week in London – Beryl Gilroy at the British Library; Milligan statue acquired; and, ‘Play in the Pandemic’…

Beryl Gilroy © The Estate of Beryl Gilroy

The archive of writer, teacher and ethno-psychotherapist Beryl Gilroy has been acquired by the British Library. Highlights from the archive, which includes working drafts for published and unpublished novels, letters with publishers and literary agents and ‘born-digital’ material, is at the centre of the free Celebrating Beryl Gilroy display which opened in the Treasures Gallery earlier this month. Gilroy, who was born in Guyana (then British Guiana) and who immigrated to Britain in 1952, became the first black head teacher in London in 1969 and wrote a number of acclaimed children’s books to better reflect the lives of her pupils. Her works – which explore the lives of families, particularly of women and children, the impact of 20th century migration and societal change that came as a result – also included number of novels, a collection of poems, non-fiction writing and a 1976 memoir, Black Teacher. The free display can be seen until 26th June. For more, see www.bl.uk.

A controversial bronze statue of merchant and slave trader Robert Milligan which formerly stood on West India Quay outside the Museum of London Docklands is joining the museum’s collection. The statue was removed in June, 2020, following a petition signed by over 4,000 people called for it to be removed from public view. Its acquisition by the museum follows a public consultation conducted in partnership with the Tower Hamlets Council and landowners Canal & River Trust, which concluded that the statue should be housed in a museum where it can be fully contextualised. “Over the last 15 years, the museum has been working with academics, community leaders and activists to tell the story of London’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, and give voice to its legacy,” said a museum spokesman. “The West India Docks, championed by Milligan using wealth from the slave trade, are a visible reminder of how this history has shaped our city. It is right and important that we acknowledge this in the statue’s story. We will now take time to consult with the local community to decide how best to take this forward as part of our collection.” The statue will be held in storage whilst the museum consults further with local communities about how best to present it.

TY® Toy Collection with IV drips, masks and in hospital This eight-year-old child’s toy collection reflected many real-life pandemic experiences, such as wearing masks, getting vaccinated and hospital treatments.Submitted by Fei Victor Lim 2020-21, Singapore © The Play Observatory. PICTURE: Play In The Pandemic, curated by Young V&A, from 23 March 2022, playinthepandemic.play-observatory.com

• The impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on children’s play is the subject of an online exhibition launched by Young V&A and its partners UCL and the University of Sheffield this week. Play In The Pandemic features some of the 100 submissions sent in from around the globe in answer to a call-out from The Play Observatory research project for people to submit their experiences of play – everything from music videos to children’s artworks and films made by parents showing their children splashing in puddles – alongside objects from the Young V&A’s collection. The exhibition, which takes the form of an unfolding origami house, also features a series of activities – ranging from how to make your own origami house to creating dens and window boxes for people to get involved. Head to the Play Observatory website.

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This Week in London – Japan at Kew; Young V&A; a Blue Plaque for Diana’s flat; and, a new Lord Mayor of London…

Visitors to Kew Gardens are being invited to immerse themselves in the art, plants and culture of Japan in a month long celebration of the Asian nation. The Japan Festival kicks off this Saturday in Kew’s Temperate House and features at its heart a large-scale artistic installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota entitled One Thousand Springs which is constructed of 5,000 haikus submitted by members of the public. There will also be a specially commissioned Chalk Garden – a contemporary response to a Japanese garden showcasing native plants including grasses, shrubs and trees – as well as a display showcasing six different chrysanthemums, Japan’s national flower, and an immersive soundscape by sound artist Yosi Horikawa featuring the natural sounds of the rivers and waterfalls of Kagoshima, atmospheric soundscapes from the Cedar mountains of Gifu and bird calls set across the waves of the Philippine Sea. The Temperate House will also be illuminated for Japan: After hours featuring a varied programme of dance, theatre, and live music performances as well as traditional flower arranging and sake sipping. The festival, supported by Daikin UK, runs to 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

Sky Brown from Great Britain during women’s park skateboard at the Olympics at Ariake Urban Park, Tokyo, Japan on August 4, 2021. PICTURE: Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Thirteen-year-old Olympian Sky Brown’s skateboard, children’s garments created by sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian and artist Bethany Williams, and Open Bionics’ 3D printed prosthetic, The Hero Arm, are among new acquisitions to be displayed at what was the former V&A Museum of Childhood. Now renamed the Young V&A, the Grade II* Bethnal Green institution is undergoing a £13m transformation ahead of reopening in 2023. The new interior fit-out, by firm AOC Architecture, will include three new galleries –  Play, Imagine and Design – as well as interactive collection displays, a suite of dedicated learning workshops, an in-gallery design studio for visitors, and a new café and shop.

• The late Princess Diana has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former flat in Kensington. Flat 60, Coleherne Court, Old Brompton Road, was her home between 1979 and 1981 during her courtship with Prince Charles. She shared it with three friends including Virginia Clarke who was at the unveiling ceremony this week. Diana, who died aged 36 in a Paris car crash in 1997, described her years at the property as “the happiest time of her life”, according to biographer Andrew Morton’s book Diana, In Her Own Words.

Vincent Keaveny was this week elected as the 693rd Lord Mayor of the City of London. Alderman Keaveny succeeds Lord Mayor William Russell, who served a second year in office after his term was extended to ensure continuity of leadership during the current COVID-19 pandemic (the last time a Lord Mayor served a second year in office was in 1861 when William Cubitt was re-elected). The annual Lord Mayor’s Show is scheduled for Saturday, 13th November, and will be followed by Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall on 15th November.

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