Visionary director of Lauderdale House steps down after almost two decades

The director of Lauderdale House is stepping down after a 17-year tenure, during which she has transformed the Grade II-listed site into an arts centre for disadvantaged children while helping to double visitor numbers.

When Carolyn Naish took up her position in 1996, she was taken with the beauty of the 16th century house and the grounds of Waterlow Park, in which it stands.

So she made it her priority to extend the Highgate Hill’s centre’s joys to people from all over Camden who didn’t have access to open space, theatre and the arts.

“When I got the job, it was a very sweet and lovely little centre,” said Mrs Naish, who lives off South End Green, Hampstead.

“Then I started to introduce education projects and get children involved and that just went from strength to strength.”

The outreach projects she introduced have reached incredible heights, drawing in disadvantaged children from all over Camden.

Among the success stories is the popular tree-dressing project, where pupils adopt a tree and follow its growth with art work, poems and Christmas decorations.

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The project has drawn in huge crowds each year and also forged strong community links.

Mrs Naish also worked closely with children from the deprived Castlehaven Estate in Camden, giving them the chance to sample everything from fashion design to music recording.

Under her guidance, Lauderdale has also developed an extensive arts programme that appeals to people of all ages and has introduced a more diverse audience to Waterlow Park than ever before.

“It was wonderful on days when you would have toddlers downstairs, the University of the Third Age upstairs and children playing outside,” said Mrs Naish. “Then there would be an evening concert followed by a talk downstairs.”

Mrs Naish also introduced a much-loved outdoor jazz and picnic event. The schedule remains more packed than ever with musicians, writers and speakers entertaining almost every day of the week.

General manager Katherine Ives, who will replace Mrs Naish as director, described her as a “visionary” who had helped Lauderdale cast off its staid image and transformed it into a vibrant cultural centre. “What she has done has been remarkable,” she said. “It has gone in a very different direction with the education and outreach projects. She transformed what we do and who we work with.”

Mrs Naish now plans to embark on a round-the-world trip and then work as a consultant on similar projects across the country.

This month, Lauderdale will learn whether it has won a lottery grant to modernise parts of the building. Whatever the outcome, Mrs Naish believes the house will move on to further success.

“There’s a good legacy and I think the house has an opportunity to really expand its activities,” she said.