Recollections of Harrow Road: a brief history of the site
Updated: Aug 12, 2021
As we submit a planning application to Westminster City Council on our proposals for 217 Harrow Road, we are taking some time to reflect on the history of this building and the area surrounding it. We want to learn from the building's past to help us inform its future and recogonise the important role the building has had in shaping lives in Westminster. We spoke to some past St Mungo’s staff members about their memories of working at 217 Harrow Road and heard about a visit from Prince Charles, climbing an outside staircase to get to the finance team and getting poems published.
A royal start
Wayne- ‘Built at some time in the 60s, and opened as a hostel in early 2001 by Prince Charles, Harrow Road has seen hundreds of people through its doors since then.’
The site was once the home of pioneering mental health hospital, Paddington Day Hospital, which led the way in the use of psychoanalytic therapy or ‘talking therapies.’ Alongside the NHS clinic, the ground floor of the building was used as an out-patient facility with a cafeteria and art therapy room. 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.
Jason- ‘I worked at Harrow Road for nearly 13 years and in my time there, there had been some ups and downs with the building. I worked with some fantastic clients over the years.’
Eileen- ‘I always liked bumping into clients on the way in and out, many of whom would get to know the staff on the top floor and would stop for a chat.’
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.
Providing a creative outlet
Katy- “I volunteered at Harrow Road for several years from 2011 to around 2016. I tried to bring things to the guys that spoke to them such as songs, books and poems and this was very successful. I also managed to have some of their work published in the Homeless Diamonds Magazine.”
St Mungo’s took over the site 30 years ago and has been supporting those facing homelessness in Westminster ever since. Across the borough, St Mungo’s has 11 semi-independent housing schemes, temporary accommodation plus two COVID-19 emergency hotel provision, one outreach service and one assessment centre. You can find out more about the work of St Mungos here.
Jim- ‘I remember Harrow Road being the centre of St Mungo’s back in the late 1980s. The top floor was all central admin. The ground floor was a workshop where all sorts of furniture was assembled by residents from different projects and sold commercially. The first floor was the hostel, which was a registered Care Home at the time, I believe.’
Eileen- ‘I sat in a strange little office which had no windows and no ventilation. As we grew, two porta cabins were placed on the roof, and the finance team was located in them. You had to go outside to get to them.
To find out more about our plans for the future of 217 Harrow Road, visit our website.