Wandsworth Bids for Borough of Culture 2025

Wandsworth Bids for Borough of Culture 2025

Deputy Leader of Wandsworth Council Kemi Akinola tells us about Wandsworth’s bid to be Borough of Culture 2025, what she loves about her borough and how events in her life have made her who she is today.

Since Wandsworth launched its campaign to be London Borough of Culture 2025, the council has worked with communities to develop a proposal that builds on all the creativity and vibrancy the area has on offer. It’s hoped that the culture title will attract investment and job opportunities.

We met with Kemi in Tooting Works on a rainy August morning, but the weather certainly hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm for the project, and there really was no better location for us to meet, with its focus on bringing the community together.

Kemi, tell us more about how Wandsworth will compete in the culture awards?

“The awards are run by the GLA and each borough can apply to win the awards for 2025. We find out early next year if we are successful. We are at the exciting brainstorming stage. We are talking to local people and meeting with artists, musicians and theatres to get ideas together and work out our vision for the borough.”

What makes Wandsworth such a special place for culture?

“Wandsworth is full of people who create, innovate and share their time with others in the community. Culture is our local identity so we invite everyone living, working and studying in Wandsworth to help showcase our borough. Tooting is right at the centre of its cultural core – there are so many different languages and people from all over the world, living harmoniously and positively in this small place. It’s incredible.”

“Wandsworth is also home to lots of cultural organisations including Royal College of Art, National Opera Studio and Royal Academy of Dance…. not to mention grassroots organisations such as Battersea Arts Centre, Sprout Art, Tara Arts and Baked Bean Theatre Company.”

How can people get involved?

“There is a survey open right now at where the public can put their ideas and thoughts. We want to hear from local stakeholders, artists, and community groups and young people and old people. We want to hear from everyone.”

What will it mean for the borough to win?

“Winning this would signal huge change across the whole borough, and it will define what we most love about living and being here. The awards would give us funding which will enable us to give more opportunities to creatives, and help people develop skills. We want to do more with the Windrush generation, and consolidate and enhance what we already have here.”

Tell us about your life and the highs and lows you have been through…

“Being able to make a huge difference and have an impact has been so rewarding for me. I was born in West Bromwich and had five brothers and sisters…we moved to Roehampton when I was a little girl. My mum was always great at taking me to culture and I got the chance to experience ballet, opera and other things when a lot of children where I lived didn’t. Roehampton was so badly connected and needed some love – like it still does now, and so my mum would organise trips for big groups of us, and that was my introduction to culture. I went on to university and studied architecture and then it was in my early 20s when I was riding my bike from Clapham to Peckham that a car hit me. I was in a coma for two and a half years and nearly died. I had to learn to use my body again.”

What has your recovery taught you?

“After the accident I couldn’t walk upstairs, I couldn’t use my arms and I couldn’t see out of one of my eyes. My heart stopped twice and I was then diagnosed with epilepsy. What happened enabled me to have more empathy for the world and influenced who I am. So I volunteered at Community Meals and I went back to study youth and community work and did two MAs. I set up my charity Be Enriched, which helps everyone from young offenders and people with learning difficulties. Every Friday in Tooting United Reform Church, volunteers cook a meal for local, lonely isolated people and it is amazing to see people coming together in the kitchen. It was at these events that I started hearing about local issues and what people were thinking and feeling, and I got into politics.”

How do you like to spend your free time?

“I am lucky enough to have a garden and I am trying and failing to grow my own food. And of course I like to go to plays and I’m involved in the arts. There is so much cultural richness around me. I feel very lucky.”