Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 25 seconds
Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Does living somewhere for decades give you a better connection with the place? Does it make you want to do more for it, or less? Hannah Kalmanowitz, who has lived in Islington for 37 years says it’s made her want to do as much good as she can where she lives. That’s why she’s so pleased to be running the Islington-based Stuart Low Trust, which provides events and support for Islington people with mental health issues. Interview by Nicola Baird
Hannah was 17 when she moved to a basement flat in Islington in 1977, rented from her friend, the costume and theatre set designer Alistair Livingstone while he was overseas. “I was really happy living there,” says Hannah thinking back to those teen days of freedom. “I was working in the theatre – after doing a foundation course at St Martin’s school of art – and had his cats to look after.”
Settling in Islington wasn’t a vast geographical move. She’d been born in Stamford Hill and brought up in Southgate, but her family were initially apprehensive about her taking on the Oakley Road, N1 address in “rough” Islington. “The rent was cheap, only £8 a week, so they agreed it was an adventure,” says Hannah exuding calm – you can see she’d have made a good case to her parents all those years ago.
Hannah’s a lovely person to meet: someone who has spent years in the theatre (her real high point was working with the original Cats cast), but then went back to university to do a Psychology degree at UCL in the late 1980s. She then worked for Islington council, did some counselling courses and in 2002, having worked her way up since joining the organisation in 1995 became director of the Immune Development Trust*(later known as Complementary Health Trust) which offered complementary therapies for people with HIV, cancer, MS and lupus.
She’s lived all round Islington – even meeting her partner, Tony, at a dinner party held at the vintage specialist shop Past Caring* on 76 Essex Road.
“I’ve lived in Islington a long time – I feel really fortunate – so I want to give back,” explains Hannah. Recently she took a short break from full time work to “be there for my mum who had Alzheimer’s. My father had previously passed away at St Joseph’s, so I felt I wanted to give something back by working there as a part-time co-ordinator. I also helped out at their jumble sales. After mum died, and after being at St J’s for six years, I felt the rumblings of a new challenge in me and I wanted this to be local, in Islington.”
As luck would have it the Stuart Low Trust was looking for a general manager. Hannah seems immensely proud to have joined the organisation in April (2014) telling the Islington Tribune: “I am so moved by the valuable work of the Stuart Low Trust. Their social therapeutic groups for vulnerable people alleviate fear, despair and social isolation”, says Hannah. “It is a lifeline in Islington, a non-judgemental, safe community, combating the above average suicide rate here. It’s helping people to gain confidence and achieve better mental health and well-being”.
Places Hannah Kalmanowitz loves in Islington
I like hidden away places like Freightliners Farm, Candid Arts Trust (they have a lovely courtyard café) and the Culpeper Garden. The Stuart Low Trust has two big plots at Culpeper and on Thursday afternoons you’ll find us growing fruit and veg there. Sometimes we also cook food grown on the plots, like rhubarb or gooseberry crumble. It’s a soothing place where people make friends – you can just come for a cup of tea and to relax.
I love South Library on Essex Road. They are lovely, friendly people and very helpful. It’s a good source of local information.
I really like the Indian veggie restaurant at the end of Chapel Market but go more often to Stoke Newington Church Street for an Indian meal.
I like the local theatres especially the Old Red Lion, The King’s Head (where I’m hoping to see Diary of a Nobody in August) and Almeida. There are really comfy sofas at the Screen on the Green. The Union Chapel is also a lovely place to listen to serene music.
The Stuart Low Trust is well known in Islington – it was set up in 1999 in memory of a young Islington man, of the same name, who killed himself as a result of not being able to find the support he needed to help him cope with his schizophrenia.
“We work with people with mental health issues or recovering or just lonely or vulnerable people,” explains Hannah. “We have a wonderful, dedicated team of trustees and volunteers who help organise the famous Friday night events at St Mary’s community centre on Upper Street. It’s a non-judgmental space designed for when people are at their lowest ebb and when normal offices and clinical services are shut.” The Friday nights may include a health topic or self help tips, live music, or presentation, but always include a nutritious buffet meal attracting 60-100 people each week.
“We’re planning to run workshops soon on health and well being, social skills and arts and crafts,” says Hannah, “as we want to attract young people, aged between 20-40 years because there is a high incidence of suicide in this group in Islington, especially among young men.” The Stuart Low Trust hopes this will complement its established groups which include philosophy discussion, singing and gardening as well as monthly outings.
Hannah is clearly practical and rooted in place. But it turns out that Islington only defines her in part. In 1998 she changed her name by deed poll to Hannah Kalmanowitz after finding out more about her Polish heritage.
“It was my grandmother’s name,” she says, “but died out because of World War Two. Those people who’d survived had either died or they’d married and taken their husbands’ names. I went with my mum the first time to our village, Rejowiec* in Poland, where the family are from. We went to Auschwitz too [where members of her family were murdered]. It was an awful feeling, but it also felt vitally important and compelling to go back and light candles and make it clear they haven’t been forgotten.
Finding out more about those awful years enabled Hannah to get to know her living relatives – in the UK and abroad – better too. As a result she’s been back to Rejowiec a few times, and was proud when her cousins arranged for a fence to go up around the old Jewish cemetery which had been obliterated.
“Finding out about your family helps you answer ‘who am I?’. It’s about identity,” explains Hannah. Clearly the information she’s gleaned has topped up her own inner strength – it’s certainly made her an inspirational choice to run the Stuart Low Trust.
- Stuart Low Trust is based at Office 7, Claremont, 24-27 White Lion St, London N1 9PD, tel: 020 7713 9304. See www.slt.org.uk for events, information and how to donate. Follow on twitter @stulowtrust
- The Stuart Low Trust is a beneficiary of Islington Giving, which encourages locals to donate to local projects, see http://www.islingtongiving.org.uk/website_/ for more info.
- This interview was done at Candid Cafe, which has a lovely outdoor courtyard and the most original interior – but you do have to climb a few floors to reach the cafe. It is rather a secret find still! Find Candid Cafe at 3 Torrens Street, EC1V 1NQ, email: email@example.com Open: mon-sat 12-10pm, Sun 12-5pm. The rooms can be booked for parties or private hire. Website here.
St Martin’s School of Arts still runs foundation classes – and now it’s based in Islington at King’s Cross. Entry requirements here
Alastair Livingstone now runs a yoga studio in northern Ireland, see http://www.yogastudioireland.com/team-members/114-alistair-livingstone.html
Past Caring was at 76 Essex Road, N1, but then moved to 54 Essex Road. It’s a great shop to find fabulous vintage items including furniture, crockery and curtains. Opening times: noon-6pm (Monday- Saturday).
Rejowiec – during WW2 half the population was murdered by the Nazis.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was described by art critic Robert Hughes as the “quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century” Chagall said his art was “not the dream of one people but of all humanity.”
Over to you
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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.