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Prince Charles decries historic buildings being abandoned to ‘arsonists and vandals’ at Kenwood House reopening

Prince Charles with David Dimbleby (centre). Picture: Dieter Perry Prince Charles with David Dimbleby (centre). Picture: Dieter Perry

Thursday, December 5, 2013
12:12 PM

The Prince of Wales has decried the “madness” of seeing heritage buildings abandoned to “arsonists and vandals” as he led a stellar guest list at the reopening of Kenwood House yesterday.

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Speaking to an audience of the country’s top politicians, writers and historians - including Lord Melvyn Bragg, David Dimbleby and Lord Iveagh - Prince Charles rallied against the dereliction suffered by some of the country’s historic sites.

But he also praised the recently completed £5.9million restoration work at the Grade I listed Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath.

The Prince said: “Being a historian by inclination and training, I suppose I realised a long time ago just how powerful heritage can be when it comes to uniting people and strengthening the identity of a community.

“It is frequently forgotten, I find, just how much so many people love the old buildings in their area, surrounded as they are by increasing ugliness and disintegration.

“I remember vividly in the early 1990s that there were so many buildings going to waste: those magnificent mill complexes and other historic buildings in town centres that had become derelict, the target for arsonists and vandals and a real blight on their communities.

“‘Heritage can all too easily be thought of as a static, museum-bound concept, but I regard heritage as very much a living thing.

“There can be no greater guarantee for the future of a truly civilised society than one that treasures and keeps alive the heritage of its past.”

After describing the protection of the country’s heritage as a “powerful way of bringing back to life deprived communities”, he joked: “As I recently reached 65 myself, I am even more conscious of the ongoing need for restoration!”

During the Royal visit, the Prince toured Kenwood’s newly restored library as well as three other rooms returned to their former glory.

The 18-month refurbishment project was undertaken by English Heritage in April last year and looked to bring Kenwood back to the design originally envisioned by its 18th century Scottish architect Robert Adam.

Also on show was the estate’s famed art collection, which had returned from touring the United States.

This includes Rembrandt’s Self Portrait with Two Circles and a portrait of Lord Iveagh, who donated the historic building to the nation in 1927.

After meeting some of the volunteers who dedicate their time to keeping Kenwood operational - who were told they all deserved a “stiff drink” - Prince Charles also spoke to manager of Kenwood House Charlotte Kemp, who described volunteers as its “life-blood”.

“The long-term future is very much dependent on the success of our volunteer programme,” she said.

“We have an impressive number of people volunteering here but we need a lot more.

“We want Kenwood House to remain free to the public and to be run by those who love it.”

With almost 200 volunteers already enrolled, Kenwood will see itself once again hosting a number of events over the winter period as part of its festive season.

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