Cheers for Hornsey Town Hall, an iconic community building in the heart of Crouch End that is closing its doors for redevelopment. Screenshot from video by Sugarsweet Productions
The vast majority of the ceremonies I lead are for people: babies who are given a warm welcome into the world; couples who commit their love to each other witnessed by a cherished community of family and friends; young adults and other people who mark an important change in their life; people who have died and whose life is being commemorated during a bespoke funeral service.
These ceremonies all mark a transition, a ‘rite of passage’, a defining moment in a human being’s life.
Just like people, buildings undergo transitions in their life-cycle. These transitions may evoke a range of emotions as it means saying farewell to what has been while the future state is unsure.
When I heard about a planned redevelopment for Hornsey Town Hall, an iconic building in the heart of the community where I live, I decided that this building, and the people it had served for decades, deserved a tribute ceremony.
Read on to learn more about the why, what and how of this unique ceremony and watch the highlight video at the end of this article!
Why a ceremony for Hornsey Town Hall?
History in a nutshell
Hornsey Town Hall started its life in 1935 as a Town Hall. In 1965 most of its functions were moved to Hornsey Borough Council’s new headquarters in Wood Green. Only a few services remained in the building and in 1987 it was closed. After a period of redundancy, ANA Arts Projects turned the Town Hall in 2015 into a thriving Arts Centre, giving it a home to local creative businesses and turning it into a lively environment for concerts, festivals and performances.
In 2015 Hornsey council offered the Town Hall for sale. July 2018, Far East Consortium will start a 2-year restoration and refurbishment project to deliver a new arts centre, hotel, café and restaurants, new homes and an improved town square.
Hornsey Town Hall, main entrance
An emotional passing
The planned redevelopment of Hornsey Town Hall has raised mixed emotions. Some people see it as an opportunity to bring the Town Hall back to its original glory. For others, it is a sad move that raised anger about decisions taken and unanswered questions and concerns about what the future will bring. Some have even compared it to emotions similar to losing a loved one.
All these feelings have in common a deep love for the building and a heartfelt connection. There’s a very special and unique relationship between the building and the people who know it. I lost my heart to the building too. Its art deco interior is stunning and as a family we have fond memories of silent discos, craft markets and festival activities. My children learned to ride a bike on the square in front of the Hall, around the fountain. I also once took part in one of the Crouch End Walks, learning more about the fascinating history and architectural details of the building.
Hornsey Town Hall has stolen the hearts of many, and some people have memories attached to it that go back to the early days of its existence. It was this special connection of the building and the people who know it I wanted to focus on in the ceremony.
Honouring a unique connection
Organising a tribute ceremony for the Town Hall felt like a vital thing to do.
- To honour all that it has meant for the local community.
- To acknowledge the mixed feelings that people have as a result of the redevelopment plans.
- To celebrate the love and connection that people have with this building.
- To give meaning to the transition of the building from one phase in its life to the next.
- To express the hope that, in its future life, its community spirit would continue to live on.
- And… to give it a big hug! (love this – quote from Crouch End Festival Facebook post)
The magnificient Art Deco stairs of Hornsey Town Hall, which have welcomed people of all walks of life for decades.
How to design a ceremony for a building
So I had this fascinating idea, but where to start, and how to make this happen?
I shared my thoughts with the directors of Crouch End Festival. They immediately supported the idea, and a few months before the hand-over date to the development team, we started brainstorming about the ceremony. The Festival, which this year took place 9-17th June 2018, would be the last opportunity for the public to visit the Town Hall in its current state, making the 17th June a fitting date for The Ceremony.
As I had never done this before, and could not find an example of a similar ceremony, we started from scratch. Step by step, we collated the ingredients for the event. Here they are:
Inspiration from the Openings Ceremony in 1935
Supported by the wonderful team of Hornsey Historical Society I did research on the Openings Ceremony of the Town Hall, which took place 4th November 1935. I was inspired by the structure of the ceremony, which included, amongst others, the presentation of a symbolic object, as well as by the music that was played at the reception afterwards. I was beyond excitement when mezzo-soprano Patricia Hammond and multi-instrumentalist Mat Redman offered to perform two songs that were performed back then!
Programme of the Openings Ceremony of Hornsey Town Hall 4th November 1935
Local artists and experts
Amanda Carrara and Chris Currer, two of the Crouch End Festival directors, suggested local artists and experts who might be interested in getting involved. Denise Dobson, leader of Songworks Community Choir, suggested to sing ‘Thank You For The Days’, a song by The Kinks, a local band who played in the Town Hall in the 1970’s. We couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to end the ceremony.
People’s memories of the building
As the community role of the building had always been important, we thought of ways to include the community. We decided to collect memories of Hornsey Town Hall, by asking Crouch End Festival visitors to write down their personal memories on a postcard. During the ceremony, we would hand over these memories to Make Architects, expressing the hope that the love of the people for the building and the community spirit they represent would be taken on board in the redevelopment and continue to live on in the Town Hall’s future state.
We are collating all memories on the Hornsey Town Hall Memories Facebook page. Here’s a random selection:
How it all came together
We contacted the nominated artists and experts and were delighted when they all supported the idea and enthusiastically committed to take part in the Ceremony. This resulted in the following programme:
- Openings song ‘Bring Them All In’ (The Waterboys)
- Sung by Songworks, local community choir, led by Denise Dobson
- By yours truly
- Written for the occasion and recited by Alan Wolfson
- Songs ‘Sweet Adeline’ and ‘Glorious Night’
- Two of the songs played at the Openings Ceremony in 1935. By mezzo-soprano Patricia Hammond and multi-instrumentalist Matt Redman
- Spoken word: Hornsey Town Hall Early Years
- Written by Chris Howe and performed by Oegnus Macnamara from Blacktooth Productions
- History of Hornsey Town Hall
- By Steve Amor, historian and curator of Hornsey Town Hall
- Memories of Hornsey Town Hall as Arts Centre
- By Alex Rochshild, ANA director
- Song ‘Sit Down’ (James)
- By Songworks Community Choir
- The Voice Of The Hall – graphics of the Town Hall
- By graphic novelist Sean Azzopardi
- Symbolic handover of memories
- By myself to Regine Kandan, architect at Make architects
- Words of thanks
- By Amanda Carrara, Crouch End Festival Director
- Closing song ‘Thank You For The Days’ (The Kinks)
- By Songworks Community Choir
- Final cheers and applause for the Town Hall
During the ceremony we moved through the building, so people could experience the different styles and ambiances of each of the spaces.
On the day, nearly 200 people attended the Ceremony. It was extremely touching to see so many people, of all ages and all walks of life, gathering to pay tribute to this magnificent building that has meant so much for so many.
The ceremony took place in different spaces of the Town Hall. This is the Committee Room. Photo by Olivia Rosen, www.gourmetgigs.com
Some people mentioned that it had helped them gain hope for the future life of the building.
The below video, created by the Toni Koppel, SugarSweet Productions, captures the spirit of the event.
Another ceremony in two years time?
Nobody knows what the future will bring, The plans to restore the Town’s Hall original art deco features and the intentions to continue community access and use sound promising, but some people have concerns as to what extent this will actually happen.
During development, parts of the Town Hall will remain open for the public. Amongst other activities, Ply Gallery will continue to host exhibitions and Crouch End Walks will continue to do tours.
Let’s hope that, in two years’ time, we will have another ceremony for Hornsey Town Hall. An openings ceremony to celebrate its revival where the Town Hall will be welcoming us as warmly as it has done throughout its life, inviting us to continue to build many happy and precious memories for centuries to come.
Facebook page Hornsey Town Hall Memories – Memories, stories and fun facts about the Town Hall, including collection of memories people shared during Crouch End Festival
Hornsey Historical Society – Great source if you’d like to know more about the history of Hornsey Town Hall
Hornsey Town Hall development website – Development plans and updates