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A short history of 217 Harrow Road

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

St Mungo's has been at 217 Harrow Road for over 30 years, but the building itself dates back to the sixties.

Before St Mungo's owned the building, the site was once the home of a pioneering mental health hospital, Paddington Day Hospital, which led the way in the use of psychoanalytic therapy or ‘talking therapies’ and arguably the foundations of modern mental health services in London.

Alongside the NHS clinic, the ground floor of the building was used as an out-patient facility with a cafeteria and art therapy room which gradually morphed into a ‘therapeutic community’, run democratically with involvement from both patients and staff with an open door policy that welcomed those considered unsuitable for psychotherapy. Patients were encouraged to express themselves through art and the space became daubed with graffiti which served as a talking point for group discussions. The day hospital’s alternative approach started to draw in its own patients - separate to the main hospital - and eventually its appeal attracted patients from far beyond the catchment area.

In the 1970s, services moved to St Mary’s Hospital, and the Paddington Day Hospital protests - formed in response to the closure - became symbolic of a growing awareness of mental health issues and an anti-psychiatry movement.

This pioneering spirit remains true to the St Mungo’s team’s work today.

Divided by the Westway

217 Harrow Road sits alongside the Westway, the elevated A40, which divided the neighbourhood when its construction saw thousands of families lose their homes. In the 1960s and 1970s, it brought to the fore significant issues regarding the environmental and human cost of large infrastructure schemes. There will be few people that can remember the time before it was built, but the cultural, artistic and political influence on London, remains as powerful as ever.

It has a totemic symbolism in art, literature and music referenced by JG Ballard in Crash (1973); featuring in long-running BBC World Service programme, Westway 1997 -2005; and finding a place in rock and pop history as referenced in lyrics and inspiring the music and look of bands such as The Clash, Blur and The Jam.

The community campaigning and protests that started in the 1960s were pioneering in showing how local people can organise, influence and go onto manage developed spaces and the wider public realm. The North Kensington Amenity Trust (founded in 1971), now the Westway Development Trust campaigned to take possession of over 23 acres of land under the Westway to better serve and support the needs of local people and businesses.

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