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Dame Jenny Abramsky: Friends of Kenwood’s new chair on childhood memories and the ‘huge challenge’ facing English Heritage

PUBLISHED: 13:30 06 November 2020 | UPDATED: 15:32 08 November 2020

Dame Jenny Abramsky received her DBE in 2009. Picture: Lewis Whyld/PA

Dame Jenny Abramsky received her DBE in 2009. Picture: Lewis Whyld/PA

PA Archive/PA Images

“It’s a place that resonates.”

Kenwood House reopened on September 2. The old entrance is now the exit, with a new one-way system in place. Picture: Polly HancockKenwood House reopened on September 2. The old entrance is now the exit, with a new one-way system in place. Picture: Polly Hancock

The new chair of the Friends of Kenwood House has been exploring the stately home and its grounds since childhood, but on taking on the role warned it was vital to appreciate the scale of the challenge Covid-19 has left for English Heritage.

Dame Jenny Abramsky – a former BBC radio exec, who used to be chair of the Hampstead Theatre – told the Ham&High about her earliest memories of Kenwood.

READ MORE: Kenwood House reopens – in pictures

She said: “I was born and brought up in the Holly Lodge Estate – my playground was Hampstead Heath. From as early as I can remember my parents and I would walk on the Kenwood Estate all the time.

“I have always said it’s our wonderland, with its heritage, the art, and the landscape.”

Dame Jenny replaced Christine Mathez-Davey as chair on November 1 at the Friends of Kenwood’s delayed AGM.

She said it had been a honour to be asked, but cautioned it was a particularly troubling time arts and heritage organisations.

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“I think the Friends, and all of us, will have to understand the events of the past year have had a really serious impact on English Heritage,” she said.

“I know just how important some of their properties are hen it comes to funding their conservation and day to day activities – and the fact is they just haven’t had tourists coming to places like Stonehenge.

“One of the challenges is how we can all support English Heritage in what’s going to be a very, very, tough year.”

She said it is essential to make sure Kenwood doesn’t suffer in the coming years, and paid tribute to the estate’s team of enthusiastic volunteers.

Dame Jenny, who still lives within touching distance of the Heath, continued by highlighting a lockdown silver lining – that many more people have visited the Heath.

She said: “The other thing to think about is just how many people have visited the Kenwood Estate and the Heath – thousands have come who wouldn’t have as a result of what’s happened.

“Kenwood has always been this hidden jewel in London. I wish it were more well-known – the art collection is truly astounding.”

Kenwood House is closed during the second Covid-19 lockdown, but the estate is expected to remain open.


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