Estimated reading time:9 minutes, 13 seconds
Architect David Gibson moved to Islington as a student in 1965 – andÂ isÂ still living here. David is convinced that goodÂ planning and the design of buildings improves people’s lives, and is aÂ committedÂ chair of the influentialÂ Islington Society (find out more by attending the AGM on Thursday 12 November 2015). Interview by Nicola Baird
David Gibson â€“ and his wife Mary Gibson, the well-known former Yerbury Primary School head teacher â€“ have been transforming the lives of Islington people for years. Turns out they were childhood sweethearts.
David, an architect and founder of the David Gibson ArchitectsÂ based on Essex Road, is also chairman of the Islington Society, which helps to influence Islington town planning for the better.
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DavidÂ first moved to Islington in 1965 while studying at University College.
â€śMost of the students lived in terrible, grotty bedsits in Barnsbury and Canonbury. They were slums, and there were plans to knock them down.â€ť Davidâ€™s student digs were in Beacon Hill, off Hillmarton Road, N7, but it wasnâ€™t until the 1970s that he moved to Upper Holloway. The couple now live in Tufnell Park and their adult children Timothy and Helen are also based in Islington. â€śI am so lucky to have a good relationship with my children and have them both living within a five minute walk,â€ť says DavidÂ whoÂ met Mary when they were both at secondary schools (different ones) in Warrington. “We were introduced by the local parish priest who ran a philosophy club.â€ť
Their charmed life had a huge hiccup in 2011 when they were involved in a head-on car collision while holidaying in Vermont. Mary had broken ribs and a punctured lung and missed the start of the Yerbury School winter term 2011/12, while David, then 63, suffered multiple fractures. But five years on he looks fit, well and looking forward to his upcoming US trip.
â€śFor around 30 years weâ€™ve spent a week in New York and three weeks in Vermont, staying with a friend Mary met as a youngÂ teacher in Islington at Ecclesbourne School in Canonbury (now closed),â€ť through her regular class trips to the Childrenâ€™s Library (now South Library) on Essex Road. http://www.islingtontribune.com/news/2011/sep/yerbury-school-head-mary-gibson-survives-car-crash-us
Why David Gibson loves Nagâ€™s Head & hopes you do too
David Gibson has lived in Tufnell Park for 30 years . Heâ€™s also on the Nagâ€™s Head Town Centre Management Group. As a result heâ€™s a huge fan of the Nagâ€™s Head:
â€śThe Nagâ€™s Head is brilliant but under rated. You go to Nagâ€™s Head for the things you need, and you go to Angel for the things you think you want.â€ť Thereâ€™s nowhere in the Angel where you can buy a nut cracker or ordinary household equipment but at Nags Head youâ€™ve got Selbys, 384-400 Holloway Road, N7.
- Until about 1920 Nagâ€™s Head was the principal centre of Islington with three theatres and all sorts of shops. Itâ€™s still geographically central.
- I like to go to Ekko, formerlyÂ Amici restaurant, 367 Holloway Road, N7.
- Joyce Pollaya, who was the Nagâ€™s Head town centre manager, and on the Nagâ€™s Head Town Centre Management Group, campaigned for 20 years to get a pedestrian crossing going east-west over Holloway Road (between Parkhurst Road-Camden Road/Tollington Way). It ws finally openedÂ in August 2015. The west side, where the restaurants are, has very wide pavements so there can be more activity there, like tables outside the cafes. Previously the economic side seemed to be on the east side, where Selby and Morrisons and the other big stores are.
- Find out more about the Nagâ€™s Head Town Centre Strategy (adopted May 2007 by Islington Council) hereÂ
As an architect he has worked all over the place, but itâ€™s where he lives that David has focussed his volunteering efforts.
â€śIâ€™m passionate about the Islington Society.Â Itâ€™s a local campaigning organisation set up to safeguard and improve the quality of life in Islington. Normally this sort of group would be combative and against things but I think to make a change and a difference you need to be able to work with the council, as well as against,â€ť says David who has been an Islington Society member since 1995. â€śThatâ€™s why we have good and strong links with the heads of department. In Islington they are really impressive people who know what they are doing and are also committedÂ to making Islington a better place.â€ť
The Islington Society was founded in 1960. â€śIt was started to try and stop the demolition of Union Square for the huge Packington Estate, N1. That was 60 years ago and itâ€™s interesting that as the Packington Estate was demolished we didnâ€™t campaign to stop that. But the new Packington Estate is architecturally very good. I particularly like the social housing which was built first and has one of the best ends of the estate which overlooks the canal,â€ť says David.
5 impressive Islington buildings (& a mistake) picked by David Gibson
- â€śThe Islington Society runs an annual architecture award. Itâ€™s been going for 20 years and was called the Geoffrey Gribble Conservation Award. Unusually the awards go to the building â€“ a 10 inch engraved bronze plaque – rather than the architects. The first plaques wereÂ made by an Islington sign maker in Amwell Street, who has now moved out to Kent. In 2014, the award now sponsored by Jack Morris and the Business Design Centre, went to the refurbishment on the corner of Rosebery Avenue and Farringdon Road. Weâ€™ve given the award to Ironmonger Row Baths and to the road bridge over the canal in King’s Cross too.â€ť
â€śI often go to Frederick’s, in Camden Passage, not only to enjoy the wonderful food but also because Iâ€™m a member of the Angel Town Centre board which meets there. In the 1970s the Angel was the most awful place. It was very run down. Now look at it! Campaigning by the Islington Society has helped preserve the best features and we are working to improve the places that are, shall we say not so good,Â such as the Bank of Scotland eyesore on the Angel tube side of Islington High Street.â€ť Â See Islington Faces interview with Frederick’s manager, Matt Segal, here.
- â€śThe N4 Library building, which is attached to City & Islington Collegeâ€™s Blackstock Road campus for adult learners is one of my favourite buildings.â€ť
- â€śAll the City and Islington campuses are impressive. Their Camden Road building was designed by Wilkinson Eyre, an Islington based practiceÂ in EC1.”
David Gibson ArchitectsÂ ran the competition with RIBA to select architects for City and Islington College’sÂ 6th form centre at Goswell Road with Tom Jupp, the then Principal of the College and Jack Morris, the Chair of Governors, who had the vision to use a really good architect – it makes such a big difference. Â The building was by Van Heynigen & Haward. City and Islington College is a great instituion, itsÂ Director, Frank McCoughlin, has just been deservedly knighted in the Queenâ€™s Birthday honours.
- â€śI wasnâ€™t impressed by the Building Schools for the Future programme (which saw Holloway, St Aloysius and Highbury Grove being rebuilt and other schools in the borough being refurbished). Those of us longer in the tooth warned that schools would be locked into these deals permanently (25 years) and it would be expensive, which, funnily enough, turns out to be the case.â€ť
Although he admits there are still plenty of things the Islington Society is vehemently against including the proposals for the Mount Pleasant Post Office site at Rosbery Avenue; removing trees from Faringdon Road and Cross-Railâ€™s desire to knock down listed buildings on the west side of Islington High Street. We find that the councillors are always very concerned about housing and education but donâ€™t see planning as a front line service. But the quality of housing, educational buildings and the life we lead is to do with the physical environment we live in,â€ť he adds with absolute conviction.
And thatâ€™s why a busy architect like David Gibson had put so much time into envisioning the ways Islington could be better. His sadly missed predecessor, Harley Sherlock, helped put the Islington Society on the campaign map. Now it is David and the Islington Society members who work so effectively to ensure the boroughâ€™s historic fabric is preserved; new buildings are of a high design standard; better public transport and priority for people on foot, bike and public transport as well as building better links between residents, officials and councillors. For anyone in Islington that makes the ÂŁ8 a year membership an absolute bargain.
- You can join The Islington Society either via website or at the AGM on 12 November, 2015. http://www.islingtonsociety.org.uk/
- Â Islington Society is sponsoring the Best Community Garden for Islington in Bloom 2015, see http://www.islingtonsociety.org.uk/islingtoninbloom.htmlÂ Here are the full results of the competitionÂ http://www.islington.gov.uk/services/parks-environment/parks/in_bloom/Pages/In-Bloom-2015-results.aspx
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