Lauderdale House in Highgate blends history with the arts and education

On a staircase where 17th century writer and diarist Samuel Pepys once walked, new history is blossoming.

From the rhymes of rap artists to schoolchildren’s laughter, Lauderdale House in Highgate is alive with the sounds of creativity – carving a new history for the handsome Grade II-listed property.

This arts and education centre is more than a historic house – with its seamless blend of heritage, arts and education.

Not only does the house host annual photography competitions, popular jazz and cabaret seasons, attracting top West End stars and a loyal following – but its vibrant education programme benefits hundreds of school children every year, some from Camden’s most deprived estates.

It is just this mix that has kept general manager Katherine Ives in her job for 14 years

“We call it an arts and education centre, but what we actually do is bring the historical house to life,” says Katherine, a familiar face to the many thousands of people who use the house each year.

“Through the activities that take place here, we’re animating and creating new history. I think there are a lot of venues that do some of the things we do but I don’t think there are any that quite do the combination we do.”

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One of Lauderdale’s most loyal champions, Katherine has injected her own vibrant creativity into the house over the years.

She started her working life as a solicitor in the City and West End before joining Lauderdale House in August 1998 having also previously worked for various theatre companies and Brent Arts Council.

Working alongside her is director Carolyn Naish and together they have carved Lauderdale’s vibrant programme of events, as well as doubling turnover and increasing footfall from 33,000 to 65,000.

“Carolyn worked in education at Sadler’s Wells before she was at Lauderdale, she’s a dancer originally, and I’ve had that theatre background. But I think we both felt we had to look at the space and see what’s best for it,” says Katherine, who lives in Glengall Road, Kilburn, with her partner Stephen Hose, a musical director and pianist.

“I knew there would be an audience for musical theatre and I knew that would work. Carolyn is absolutely passionate about the education side and there was no education programme at Lauderdale before she arrived a year before me.

“We’ve tried different things and it’s important that it’s used and used creatively, that’s the bottom line. It reflects our interests but it also reflects the people that come in.”

Along with the rest of the Lauderdale team, Katherine now faces the challenge of a career spearheading the campaign to raise �500,000 by October to secure Lauderdale’s future – which the 50-year-old jokes is �10,000 for every year of her life.

“It’s probably the project I’ve worked on where there’s most at stake because the potential benefits are huge,” she admits.

“Apart from bringing in a whole new heritage for the building, it’s the fact that, if we manage this project, we will make the building sustainable for the future. It’s a very important thing to be part of.”

The redevelopment would totally overhaul the warren of former servants’ quarters at the rear of the house and see the addition of a striking glass-fronted workshop to transform the teaching space.

Not only would the work create a new history for the physical house but it will secure its legacy as a community space.

“It will be just absolutely fabulous the day we have our launch party of our newly refurbished building – our interactive screens telling you how Pepys walked on that staircase,” says Katherine. “I think it will be unbelievable, so satisfying.

“It is definitely a dream, but I think it’s a realistic one and when it happens we’ll be standing there with a glass of wine saying ‘Oh, is this real’.”

* Donations to the Lauderdale Transformed campaign can be made in person, by cheque, bank transfer or by buying ‘notional tickets’ to Lauderdale Transformed: The Big Build, a fictional event on the website