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Lockdown runners and walkers shut out of the Kenwood estate

No chance to enjoy the rhododendrons this year

10 May, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Kenwood next to Hampstead Heath

THE extensive grounds around Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath will remain closed to the public during the coronavirus lockdown, frustrating walkers who want to spend their exercise time there. English Heritage, which manages the estate has furloughed 86 per cent of its employees, leaving a skeleton crew at Kenwood for security and basic maintenance.

The conservation body has lost out on ticket sales from visitors across its sites and at Kenwood, a summer concert series which was due to include disco legend Nile Rodgers, the Village People and DJ David Rodigan, has been cancelled. Some Heath users say the gates should be unlocked as walkers search for places to get exercise and fresh area.

Former councillor and transport and climate campaigner Paul Braithwaite said: “I walk on the Heath three times a week – and bang in the middle is Kenwood and its grounds. I understand why the House, car park and cafe should be closed but the grounds are large – around 70 acres, and I can see no legitimate reason for it to remain shut. At this time of year, there are gorgeous displays of rhododendrons. It would be good to see them for your mental health – it is insensitive of English Heritage to stop the large population who enjoy the Heath from enjoying Kenwood too.”

Helen Payne, the chair of the Friends of Kenwood, said: “It is important to remember that Kenwood is designed as a gentleman’s park. It has enclosed spaces with entrances – and they were proving to be really tricky pinch points to manage.”

She added that during the initial panic caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, many visitors were not adhering to rules regarding social distancing, adding: “In retrospect, it would have been nicer if people had been more co-operative.”

An English Heritage spokesman said: “English Heritage is working within the restrictions to help manage the Covid-19 pandemic. This has an impact on our ability to open our sites and that applies to the grounds of Kenwood House, along with the house itself and all English Heritage’s other staffed sites across the country. Whilst the Kenwood estate includes open green space, first and foremost it’s the responsibility of English Heritage to care for the property, its very important collection and its landscape – including the sculptures.

“As you’d expect, we have stringent security measures in place, and in order for us to fulfil that responsibility it is not possible to permit visitor access into the grounds without public facing staff present there.”

He added that the estate made up around a tenth of the Heath, so there was still space for exercise.

The City of London, which manages the wider Heath, threatened to close its gates in the early stages of social distancing measures due to the number of visitors, but has since reported improvements in the way the space is being used.

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