Listen to a Londoner: Ivo Dawnay

The National Trust AGM

Meet Ivo, the London Director of the National Trust (a charity that is 117 years old)! I’ve picked his brain about some of the Trust’s newest projects that are targeting London’s younger generation in an effort to shake off their slightly dusty reputation. They have some loads of exciting events coming up as part of The London Project, a new initiative to do just that. Ivo talks about a few below, but a couple of my favourites include the bespoke themed dinners by The Art of Dining at three London properties which include theatre and art, a garden party, a beer festival and an ‘alternative’ festival of flowers and gardening.

Read on for Ivo’s thoughts on sharing London’s heritage with young people, why they created an app to tell the stories of Soho and his favourite Notting Hill restaurant. 

LLO: Tell us a bit about your background and interests outside of the National Trust. Where are you from originally? If not London, how long have you been here and what brought you here?
ID: Hampshire, but I came to London aged five in 1958 and never left (except to work abroad a few times). I have been walking dogs in Kensington Gardens ever since I can remember.

LLO: How did you develop your interest in the historical side of London life and conservation that led you to where you are now as the London Director of the National Trust? In what ways has your interest developed as you’ve gotten more closely involved over the years?
ID: I always loved history and London, but I came to the job from being the Trust’s Director of Communications. I pointed out to my boss that we didn’t feel ‘present’ enough in Britain’s major cities and that I would like to see what we could do about it. That’s when they gave me the job.

LLO: The National Trust is trying to refresh its reputation, using technology like the Soho Stories App and now The London Project initiative. What sparked this interest in the younger generation and why is it important to reach out to this new demographic?
ID: Heritage sometimes feels a bit old school – something for retirement. The clear majority of Londoners are under 40. My research showed that if you found the right stories, there was absolutely an interest in heritage for all age groups. The Soho Stories App tells the social history of London’s most Bohemian neighbourhood from 1945 to the present day. It’s a history of youth rebellion, on a direct sequential line from skiffle to Rock ‘n Roll, to psychedelia to punk to the New Romantics and onwards. It is also jazz, poetry and art – all these things appeal to younger people.

LLO: I hear you have over 50 events planned as part of The London Project this year. Tell us about a few you are most excited about, why they are different and deserve a slot in Londoners’ diaries.
ID: Well, there are masses and the best way to find them is to go to My favourites include a 24 hour wildlife programme called ‘Wild About London’ on June 8/9, a day of outdoor games on July 21 at Ham House and a whole range of funky film showings hosted by the art collective, Amy Grimehouse at Sutton House in Hackney. Plus, in the Autumn we have our London Behind Closed Doors season with Time Out visiting all sorts of surprising places around the capital.

LLO: What would you wish for Londoners to take away from The London Project? What do you hope to achieve? Will it be an ongoing project or one year only?
ID: The Trust is all about the enjoyment and appreciation of special places. We hope that our activities in London will reveal and celebrate what a fantastic city this is in innovative ways that reach younger audiences and show them that the Trust is not just about country houses and rural England. And, sure, we are going to keep going next year.

LLO: You’re planning to help distribute 10,000 free packets of wildflower seeds around London. Where can we get one? Tell us about the other elements of your collaboration with Chelsea Fringe over the next few weeks as well.
ID: The seeds are being given out all over London at over 200 Chelsea Fringe events and also at our properties. Our Chelsea Fringe activities include an utterly brilliant art happening on Twitter called Dawn Chorus, created by my colleague, Natasha Vicars and seven artist friends. They are inviting people across the country to Tweet between 3am and 5am on June 9 about what they see as the dawn breaks. It should produce a brilliant Twitter narrative. Check out how to take part on our website.

LLO: Tell us about the widely discussed Soho Stories app. What is it? How does it work? And why Soho? Tell us a bit about why this area is important for you.
ID: What we wanted to achieve is the sense of a people’s history of a specific area, delivered by them in their own words. The joy of the GPS technology is that your phone knows where you are and delivers the stories appropriate to your exact location. Of course, I love Soho because it is chockablock with anecdotes and memories – some of them quite salacious. It seems to me that there is no reason why sex, and drugs and rock and roll aren’t our heritage too.

LLO: How many National Trust properties are there in London? Which is your favourite and why?
ID: We have about 10 properties, most of them small and hidden away. One of my favourites is our newest – 575 Wandsworth Road, a tiny Victorian terraced house whose entire interior has been decorated in an elaborate fretwork by a Kenyan-born poet. Only six people can see it at a time so you have to book.

LLO: Give us your best London dinner and drinks recommendations.
ID: For modern Asian, E&O in Kensington Park Road – delicious but pricey. For drinks, any proper traditional pub of the Victorian era – no fakes.

LLO: Best London discovery? 
ID: Pitshanger Manor in Ealing, John Soane’s country retreat.

Thanks Ivo!

To read more about The London Project, click here:

2 comments on “Listen to a Londoner: Ivo Dawnay

  1. It’s great that some people reinvent themselves by leaning and innovating with the advancement of technology. I sure hope this serves as an inspiration for old group or organization that has so much potential but not seen because of their eccentric practice and ways.

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