London First Special feature
Susie Symes, Chair of the Spitalfields Centre
At last, London is to become the first European capital to create a museum celebrating diversity – a place of learning and of remembering – that will match the world class visitor attractions which New York and Melbourne take for granted.
19 Princelet Street, in Spitalfields, on the very edge of the City of London, is a symbolic building, redolent of the history of London and of the many diverse peoples who created this multicultural and global city. An inspirational charity, the Spitalfields Centre, is making a new sort of museum here, a permanent exhibition and a place of education for all.
It is a magical building. When you step through the dusty front door, you step into the past. First into the shadowy hall-way of a Huguenot silk merchant’s home, of 1719; then, as your eyes adjust to the gloom, you walk towards the rear garden of the house and discover instead a hidden jewel in London’s architectural crown, a tiny Victorian synagogue.
This is a site of national importance, in the top 4% of all listed buildings in the country. On rare public openings, people queue patiently for hours to glimpse inside. It has extraordinary power to move people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
Education for all
Making a permanent exhibition here, a special sort of museum, will show the world that London does genuinely value and promote the ethnic diversity that is so important in attracting global investment and a talented workforce.
Visitors will see how, over many centuries, incomers from all over the world shaped – and continue to shape – our ideas, enrich our cultural heritage, and create the society in which we live.
The exhibition will not only celebrate – it will also challenge. It will be a place tomake connections, to bring people together across generations and cultures. Above all it will bring a historical perspective, to better inform our social responsibility towards all our communities and peoples.
The first melting pot
Regeneration through culture
The area is still one of the most deprived in London, and also one of the most ethnically diverse. It needs lasting projects such as this, which embrace economic and social inclusion, bring a derelict site back to productive use, and also bring spending power to the area. This project will contribute to the new Cultural Strategy for London and the strategic development objectives of the London Plan: it will be a beacon project for the capital.
Corporate responsibility Companies are an integral part of the society in which they work, and we need help and investment in this project, to give London a visible symbol of pride in our multicultural past and commitment truly diverse and equal society.