With Connaught Village at its heart, and with luxury shopping and a global cuisine, The Hyde Park Estate is now one of the most sought after residential addresses in London.
Imagine living or working in an area where you are a step away from one of the world’s most famous shopping streets and one of the world’s most famous parks. An area where you have beautiful Georgian buildings and traditional garden squares, nestled alongside modern sixties tower blocks; where you can enjoy the vibrant life in Connaught Village with its quirky boutiques and restaurants and also enjoy an array of wildlife, from butterflies, bees, and hoverflies to birds and bats
This is The Hyde Park Estate in 2015, transformed over the last few years by the vision and drive of the team at the Church Commissioners. Minutes from Oxford Street and the Marble Arch one-way and the vast expanse of Hyde Park, The Hyde Park Estate was one of the lesser known and undervalued ones, but now ranks alongside other prime central London Estates.
As the Estate’s Residential Asset Manager, Mark McKeown has been one of the key people in driving some of these improvements; along with his colleagues he has helped put The Hyde Park Estate on the map and made it one of London’s most desirable places to live and work.
In an exclusive interview, local man Martin Bikhit, MD of Kay & Co (one of the few estate agents allowed in the Estate’s prestigious Connaught Village), talks to Mark about the challenges he faced in trying to improve The Hyde Park Estate. He discusses the ongoing work required to bring about the transformation from past to present and asks him to select his personal highlights on the Estate.
MARTIN: The Hyde Park Estate is not as well-known as the big landowners’ estates like Grosvenor, Cadogan and Portman. Who owns it and when was it formed?
MARK: Initially the Hyde Park Estate was developed in the 19th Century and belonged to the Bishop of London before being transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1836. In 1948 this became The Church Commissioners, whose investment portfolio is run as a business to support the ministry of the Church of England across the country.
MARTIN: What are the investments and assets on the Hyde Park Estate?
MARK: There are around 1,700 residential, commercial and retail properties currently in the portfolio. After the Second World War several leases on the Estate expired or had been disclaimed and many properties were requisitioned by Paddington Borough Council and refurbished to a poor standard. Management agents employed by the Commissioners at the time claimed that ‘a blight was cast over the estate.’ So in the 1950s and 60s the Commissioners set about transforming and rebuilding the estates into one of the most fashionable areas of London.
The Estate is bounded by Sussex Gardens, Bayswater Road and Edgware Road. Not only does it have a rich and varied architectural heritage, but the Connaught Village area has become a popular destination for locals and tourists alike to enjoy the unique blend of high quality boutiques and independent coffee shops, restaurants and traditional pubs, as well as art galleries.
MARTIN: What is the history since WWII and what inspired your vision for the Estate in the 21st Century?
MARK: In the 50s and 60s the redevelopment resulted in several architecturally significant complexes still in our ownership, including, 25 Porchester Place and Coniston Court, The Water Gardens, The Quadrangle and Quadrangle tower, Devonport, and in the 1960s Sussex Square was developed. By 1972 The Commissioners moved into a new era of conservation and this commitment to the quality of value and their assets continues today in the 21st Century and was part of my brief when I joined.
MARTIN: The history is fascinating, but let’s talk about TODAY. Everyone in the area is now seeing the results of the hard work in pushing through a series of changes and developments which has put us on the map. Tell us why we are becoming known as the Green Estate.
MARK: I was brought in to improve the Hyde Park Estate. It’s as big as the Grosvenor or Portman Estates, but wasn’t as well known.
Over the last two years, the entire Estate has been rebranded in new Estate colours – classy green and gold. We’ve restored buildings and gardens to their former glory – replacing chicken wire fences with the original cast iron railings, we have protected Connaught Village by choosing tenants carefully – we want to keep the village mix, in favour of small independent retailers, art galleries, restaurants and services – it’s important to have a mix – with services such as dry cleaners alongside delis and fashion and art stores. Even with estate agents such as yours – Kay & Co – we have limited the number on the street and located them at one end.
MARTIN: Yes, and we are fine with that – it actually makes the area a better place for us to be – there is nothing worse than a street full of estate agents! We find it adds values to the properties in the area when the estate managers take care to protect what has made it special in the first place and to add to the charm of an area with initiatives such as yours to make The Hyde Park Estate Green. Tell me more about what inspired your determination to encourage wildlife in the middle of central London and establish a wonderful wildlife haven in some of the areas gardens?
MARK: I have always been passionate about gardens and gardening and encouraging wildlife and this fits Commissioners’ wider objectives and they welcomed the Green Estate Initiatives.
MARTIN: What have you done to encourage and keep wildlife on the Estate?
MARK: We developed a programme for planting for wildlife – setting aside space for wildflower gardens, putting in perennials that would attract bees and butterflies, minimising chemical use and generally practising wildlife-friendly gardening. We have built wildlife stacks for ladybirds, beetles, spiders and earwigs, lacewing chambers for hibernation and solitary bee nesting boxes in key areas of the gardens. We have also put up bird boxes and bat boxes in all the gardens. Some of the gardens where these features are installed include areas in the Quadrangle and Devonport Gardens, the Water Gardens, Norfolk Crescent, Oxford Square and Sussex Square. We have followed RSPB and Wildlife Trust recommended designs.
MARTIN: How have the residents taken to all your changes and initiatives?
MARK: Broadly they have been welcomed – families can now take their children into the gardens and learn about wildlife in central London. We have put up signs showing pictures and descriptions of the birds that can be spotted, and in the Water Gardens complex we have installed signs that illustrate the pond life that can be seen.
MARTIN: : Yes, I have noticed them and was impressed with the fact that you thought to put them at a level which small children or wheelchair users could read easily. This is a great selling point when we are marketing properties in the area to families – or indeed to anyone who enjoys beautiful gardens and nature.
MARTIN: Tell me about the Devonport Garden’s greenhouse – it looks great, but can you explain what it is used for?
MARK: We were able to make use of a disused corner of the garden and also create a very real asset to the Hyde Park Estate Green Strategy. Our gardeners have been trained in glasshouses at Kew Gardens and use their extensive knowledge to achieve sustainable gardening. They can use this growing space to propagate seedlings and cuttings which can then be planted in the gardens at the right time. We can also grow herbs and grow plants from bulbs which can then be used to decorate our interior reception areas. This has brought the Estate costs on planting down, reduced our carbon footprint and at the same time The Greenhouse itself looks wonderful being made from cast iron and bricks.
MARTIN: Connaught Village, where Kay & Co’s Hyde Park office is based, is a hidden gem in London. I gather it was your idea to introduce the now famous Dog Show as part of the summer festival?
MARK: Yes, it has become a staple of Connaught Village life – the next one is on Wednesday 24th June – a date for the diary. We’ve protected the Village from the homogenization that has happened on many retail streets where every unit is either a chain coffee shop or an estate agent.
We have kept it as a luxury and eclectic mix of shops with original designers, restaurants from around the globe, art galleries and studios – plus a couple of classic pubs. It serves the community and is the hub of a real neighbourhood – as any village should be.
Located on Connaught Street and Kendal Street, it’s remarkably quiet given that it is tucked away behind the Georgian Squares between Bayswater Road and Marble Arch – Oxford Street and Edgware Road are minutes away and yet you could be in the small village. The community is vibrant and people know each other.
MARTIN: I have enjoyed the events you put on to keep the community alive – tell me what inspired the Dog Show?
MARK: I love dogs and of course many people in Connaught Village have dogs – being so close to Hyde Park it just invites a doggy community to exist. We decided to create the Dog Show with Hyde Park’s Veterinary Centre who run it. Residents and visitors are invited to enter their dogs into serious categories such as ‘Dog which looks most like its Owner’ and ‘Puppy with the Waggiest Tail’ – hopefully it is all good fun!
Last year our celeb guest judges were Claudia Winkleman and Jennifer Saunders – both canine experts and owners – this year we hope to have another familiar face – we have yet to announce. Check out the website for news on www.connaught-village.co.uk
As well as the Hyde Park Dog Show, the Connaught Village Summer Festival offers up fun and entertainment for all ages, from live music and street entertainment, to fairground rides and artisan food and craft stalls.
MARTIN: You are clearly dedicated to the improvement of the buildings and gardens and the quality of life for everyone living and working on the Estate. But tell me about your personal favourites:
MARK: MY FAVOURITE HPE BUILDING: The Brassworks in Frederick’s Close,– now 8 residential flats – historically the building used to make brass instruments for Boosey & Hawkes
MARK: MY FAVOURITE HPE VIEW: From the roof at 25 Porchester Place– stunning views of the London skyline with all the iconic buildings in view – and overlooking Hyde Park – literally a bird’s eye view.
MARK: MY FAVOURITE GARDEN: The Water Garden because of the planting and eco system and the wild life it now supports.