FIRST WEDNESDAY NIGHTER WITH JIM MONAHAN
By Abigail Portus, Y2
The first of the LSA Wednesday Nighters, a student-led series of evening talks, began on 22 November with a talk by Jim Monahan.
Whilst a student at the AA in the 1970s, Jim established the Covent Garden Community Association to protect Covent Garden from significant redevelopment and the ‘last gasps of modernism’. Accompanied by a vintage slide projector on which to show his vast collection of photographs, Jim told us about the activism and community projects he organised with other locals at the time. Without their combined efforts, areas of Westminster and Camden would appear very different today.
A proposal by the GLC looked to demolish significant plots of worker’s and social housing, parks and historic buildings. Achieved through listing, raising awareness amongst local communities and even squatting in particular buildings, the fight was gradually won. Community gardens were created on empty plots in Covent Garden, on which festivals and music events were held. Pockets of these projects still remain, such as the beautiful walled Phoenix Garden tucked behind St Giles-in-the-Fields church.
Flicking through glass slides projected jauntily onto a wall of our Somerset House studio, Jim spoke of the stories with fondness and enthusiasm. Excitement shined through the grainy photographs of ‘70s cars, mock Japanese gardens that sat a stone’s throw from Shaftesbury Avenue and shoulder-length haircuts peering out the derelict windows of a building that now plays host to Covent Garden’s Nike store. A very different fate awaited it.
The GLC scheme was scrapped and it is down to the energy, activism and commitment of Jim and his peers that so much of Covent Garden remains intact as we still know it today.
Many thanks to Jim Monahan!