WHEN people talk of cities as playgrounds, they tend not to be thinking about swings and roundabouts, but bars, restaurants and the like. It’s not exactly child-friendly.
However, families are at the heart of Celebrate the City and a significant proportion of the festival programme has been built with them in mind.
“When it comes to things to do in London,” says Stella Ioannou, Celebrate the City’s project director, “The City’s not necessarily the number one family destination. We wanted to open the City up to groups that might not ordinarily take part in what it’s got to offer and families were at the forefront of that.”
During the four days, children will get free access at set times to two of London’s most iconic landmarks, both designed by Sir Christopher Wren: St Paul’s Cathedral and the Monument on Fish Street Hill, where you can climb the 311 steps for a spectacular panoramic view.
More or less sandwiched between the two is Cheapside, effectively the City’s original high-street. On Saturday 23 June, it will be closed to traffic as Celebrate the City takes over and transforms it into a family fayre. All manner of stalls and activities will be spread from one end to the other, spilling onto the side streets to the north up to the Guildhall Yard where there will be a market.
“All of this is happening, not in the context of some green field or other, but in the middle of the City, with all its fantastic heritage and history,” the Barbican’s Managing Director Sir Nicholas Kenyon points out, “It’s also a fantastically concentrated area so it’s very easy to get around.”
On the day, the street will be split into three areas, showcasing music and performance, sport and the City’s various liveries.
Stages at the east end of Cheapside will host performances from City Bridge Trust-supported organisations, including the London Children’s Ballet and circus and street dancers, Funk da Cirque! Other performances, such as stilt-walkers and suitcase-size puppetry, will be roaming throughout and, in One New Change, a series of choirs and bands playing all day. As you walk west towards St Paul’s, it becomes more hands-on: sporting activities from Golden Lane Sport & Fitness, interactive demonstrations from St John Ambulance and Fire Services and, most crucially, free ice-cream for children.
However, it’s the livery company demonstrations that will likely draw most interest. Rooted in Medieval England, these companies are the City’s original trade unions and there’s one for almost every trade. “Depending on who you choose to agree with, there are 108 or 109 of them,” says Ioannou. “There’s everything from the fan-makers to the glove-makers, the information technologists to the tax advisors. I can’t even pronounce half of them.”
With many different liveries represented, Cheapside Fayre offers a unique opportunity to see their work up close. The Farriers will be shoeing horses. The Blacksmiths are bringing a forge. The Poulters will be showing chicks in incubators at various stages of development and the Farmers will be milking a cow on Milk Street.
But the City is about more than its various trades. It’s also home to some stunning architecture, much of which will be open access.
With her background in architecture, Ioannou’s delighted: “Even as an adult, I still get excited when I go to the top of the Gherkin or at the 25th floor of Tower 42. For a child who’s never even been into the City, let alone in a high-speed lift to the 34th floor, that’ll be something else.”
Reinforcing this theme is the Open House Junior Festival, London’s first ever child-friendly City architecture festival run by Victoria Thornton, which will be running a series of workshops and competitions. “We’re educating a generation and giving them the opportunity to start understanding how you build a building and even, dare I say, to consider becoming an architect.”
It’s the chance, in other words, to get a glimpse into the playgrounds of the future.