Travel Guide to Southwark

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Southwark Centre Stage in London's Cultural Revival
At the dawn of the Third Millennium it is somehow fitting that one of London's most ancient districts, Bankside, has become central to a brave, new and exciting vision for the city . This vision which aims to pull London together is focused on exposing and exploiting London cultural richness. Unlike other visions this one is actually being put into place. It really is happening. Bankside will soon become part of what has been described as the Millennial Mile, confirming London's place as the only truly World Class City.

Bankside first came into being as the prehistoric location of one of London's first human settlements. This was almost 4,500 years ago. Since then it has become home to the Romans who built the first bridge across the Thames, residence for the Bishop of Winchester and centre of Shakespeare's swinging London. It was full of taverns, bear baiting and gambling dens. Which were banned inside the City gates. Shakespeare had links with three theatres here: the Rose, the Swan and of course the Globe.

Bankside today is dominated by one building - the disused Bankside Power Station, Standing directly opposite St Paul's it was conceived as a new kind of Cathedral, a cathedral of pure energy. Inevitably technological change meant that the power station and much of the surrounding area gradually slipped into obsolescence. Bankside soon became just another hidden area cut off from the London mainstream.

In the late 1980s Southwark Council began to work realising Bankside 's true potential. It drew up a radical regeneration strategy for the area based on flexibility and getting away from the traditional blueprint planning prevalent at the time. Perhaps it wasn't so far fetched to believe that Bankside could one day be re-established as a centre for the arts. Plans by the American Director, Sam Wanamaker to reconstruct Shakespeare's Globe showed that this ambition might not be just another exercise in wishful thinking.

Commitment to getting things done in partnership led to the formation of the Employers' Forum which included new arrivals to Bankside such as the Financial Times and the Daily Express. In 1993 the Forum commissioned Llewelyn Davies with Sir Frederick Snow International to prepare a report on the Bankside area identifying issues rather than development sites.

The report contributed towards the Council's continuing strategy of change, and reasserted the need for partnership between private and public funding to address the social and environmental problems of the area. The redevelopment of the power station site was identified as being instrumental to its regeneration.

The Bankside Regeneration strategy took a two pronged approach. On the one hand seemingly low profile projects aimed at improving the accessibility of the area as well as its immediate environment. On the other, a drive to pull investment into the area and to reassure investors that Southwark Council was serious about regeneration. One complemented the other. Bankside's regeneration slowly began to gain momentum. People started to take notice.

A steady stream of small and medium sized projects was successfully implemented. Perhaps most important being the pedestrian underpass which created a seamless link between Westminster Bridge, the South Bank complex, Blackfriars Bridge to Tower Bridge and beyond. Successful implementation engendered both confidence and trust from within the residential and business community. At the same time larger infrastructure proposals like Thameslink 2000 implying huge benefits started to take shape. Enquiries from potential investors began to flow in. The most exciting coming from the Nicholas Serota - Director, no less, of the Tate Gallery.

What started to become clear was that Bankside was part of an even wider vision for the city that looked towards the cultural centre not just as something to provide Londoners with civic pride but to create jobs and generate wealth. Southwark Council took a leading role in setting up a new partnership, the Cross River Partnership which included Westminster City Council and the Corporation of the City of London. Its aim was to create a new heart for the Capital focused on the Thames. Flowing from the partnership were projects which if implemented would completely transform modern London. Other proposals included Richard Roger's radical plans for the South Bank centre, a new pedestrian bridge across the Thames, a cable car linking the South Bank with Covent Garden and what would be the Worlds largest Ferris Wheel part powered by the Thames.

Central Government expressed its enthusiasm for the approach taken and backed this up 1994 with a substantial cash award from its Single Regeneration Budget.

All of a sudden Bankside was in midst of something which hadn't been matched since the Festival of Britain. It was part of what was becoming a huge celebration to welcome the Third Millennium. What made it really special was that there was a funding climate ready to turn ambitious visions into reality. First came news that the Globe Trust was to get 12.4 million lottery money to top up funds already raised by private donations to complete the long awaited and much praised Globe Theatre. Soon afterward the Millennium Commission decided to award 50 million of National Lottery money towards the 106 million conversion of Bankside Power Station into the Tate Gallery of Modern Art.

The product of inspired design by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the Bankside proposal was selected as a Landmark project for the Millennium and would be key link of a chain of equally awe inspiring landmark projects stretching from the Tate at Millbank through Victoria Embankment Gardens, Westminster, the South Bank Centre, the Oxo Tower and Tower Bridge; site incidentally , of the proposed new Royal Opera House. Hopes that Bankside could become somewhere special have now been replaced by certainty that it will. Things have come full circle with one of the capital's oldest districts, becoming birthplace to an optimistic vision for the future of the city.
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