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History is a winner thanks to the lottery

PUBLISHED: 07:23 07 April 2006 | UPDATED: 10:26 07 September 2010

The arts centre is just one of the projects that has won a jackpot, explains Dame Liz Forgan... As I walk past the Roundhouse every day and see the old engine shed gradually emerging again, wrapped round by its elegant new extension, I see living proof o

The arts centre is just one of the projects that has won a jackpot, explains Dame Liz Forgan...

As I walk past the Roundhouse every day and see the old engine shed gradually emerging again, wrapped round by its elegant new extension, I see living proof of the seamless link that can exist between our past and our future.

It is a glowing example of how respect for our heritage - embodied in a decision to reuse the original 19th century structure - has produced the most exciting performance space in London.

The arts centre will have a major impact on everyone, from theatre goers to local youth groups, as well as delivering a regenerative boost to Chalk Farm and the surrounding area.

An inspired use of an historic building has given birth to a place of artistic inspiration.

This has so often been the case in projects that have received grant support from the Heritage Lottery Fund during its 11 years of existence. And my home borough of Camden exemplifies the huge scope of what can be achieved.

Before looking at some of these, let me dwell a little longer on the Roundhouse.

The lottery fund contributed £3.6million to the project, with specific emphasis on conserving and enhancing the Grade II*-listed structure.

The architects have maintained and restored the original features that give the building its distinct character, while creating a cutting edge facility jammed with the latest technology.

The building was originally designed as an engine shed - but was actually used to house winding gear needed to haul the locomotives of the 1840s up the incline from Euston Station.

Once the locomotives became more powerful and were able to perform the task unaided, the building found a new role as a gin warehouse.

Then, in the 1960s, it was turned into a much-loved theatre hosting early performances from the fledgling Pink Floyd and David Bowie.

As a young reporter on the Ham&High, I covered many of them and it's great to see that life is returning to the building.

The Roundhouse is one of our landmark projects in Camden. But, in fact, the borough has benefited from hundreds of projects - with a total of £60million in funding from the lottery fund.

We don't just fund historic buildings and works of art, but also support a whole range of places, objects, activities, customs and community histories that people value as a legacy from the past that matters to them.

Camden is home to a number of major institutions to whom the HLF has provided financial support; the British Museum, the British Library, University of London, the Sir John Soane Museum. There has been money to help restore St Stephen's in Hampstead (at long last!) and the Foundling Museum (one of London's hidden gems) near Russell Square.

King's Cross Voices recently received a £285,000 grant to record the memories of residents living in the area over the last 50 years. This will be a vital saving of the past as the whole area comes up for rebuilding. There will be an education pack for use in local schools, together with publications, visual art and sound trails.

Then we have The Ones We Left Behind, which received £50,000 to celebrate and share the diverse experiences of Caribbean people who migrated to Camden during the 1950s and 60s.

Memories From Emilia, Romagna and Sicily is currently recording the reminiscences of Italian communities who have settled in London since the Second World War and built up a major restaurant and market gardening trade.

And Know Ur History recently engaged young people from Camden in recording their personal histories and family backgrounds.

The demographic mix in a borough like this spurs greater demands for an answer to the question, 'Who do we think we are?'.

The answer to this demands that we know and understand the places - literal and metaphysical - we ourselves and our neighbours came from, the heritage of the places we now share, the varied customs and traditions that shaped us and our antecedents.

All this may seem a long way from the rebuilding of the Roundhouse but it is not.

The new building will provide an inclusive space in which young people in particular will be able to channel their energies and enthusiasm, explore new means of expression and take on new challenges.

That an historic structure, lovingly restored and creatively improved by Torquil Norman and his brilliant team, can make this a reality for a modern society is something of which I am tremendously proud.

o Dame Liz Forgan was formerly managing director of BBC Radio and director of programmes at Channel 4. She joined the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund as chairwoman in April 2001 and was appointed a Dame in the 2006 New Year's Honours List.


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