Saving a stately home for the local community

How a local community group helped to save a 19th Century stately home in South London for use by local residents, community groups and businesses. We spoke with Secretary, Toby Williamson, about how fiscal hosting has helped their unincorporated group achieve their aims.


Tell us about the mission of The Friends of Kingswood House?


The Friends of Kingswood House was set up in 1998 to preserve the history of Kingswood House but also to actively promote its use for the local community. The community group is a very small unincorporated organisation run entirely by volunteers. The Friends of Kingswood House aims to share the history of the grade II listed building and promote use for, and by, the local community. 

There aren’t many council-built housing estates that have a stately home in the middle of them but the Kingswood Estate in Southwark, South London does. The estate was built around Kingswood House, a Grade II listed building that dates back to 1811. Its most famous owner was John Lawson Johnston, the inventor of Bovril, and because he designed parts of the House to look like a Scottish castle, it has the nickname ‘Bovril Castle’. The House also has connections with royalty, the Canadian armed forces, and a Russian prince. After the estate was built on the land around the house after World War 2, the House was going to be knocked down but local people living on the estate successfully campaigned to prevent this. For well over 50 years the House has been a resource for the local community with a library, youth club, events, and space for small organisations. The House is owned by Southwark Council but now run by a community interest company, Kingswood Arts.


What has held you back from achieving your mission?


During the COVID pandemic the House was closed to the general public for long periods of time and it was difficult for us to keep a sense of momentum and togetherness.

Coupled with more recent problems with the group’s financial admin, including the resignation of our treasurer in 2022, meant that the group had to look for temporary solutions. We transferred the balance on the Friends’ bank account into a personal bank account, which was far from an ideal arrangement.


How has fiscal hosting helped you?


The arrival of Rachel and her colleagues from The Social Change Agency at the end of 2022 really helped inject new life into the Friends, as well as resolving practical difficulties.

The Social Change Nest’s fiscal hosting platform was the perfect arrangement for the transfer of our funds from our Secretary’s bank account – which has led to a much more transparent way of managing finances.

Our new Treasurer sings the praises of fiscal hosting” – Toby Williamson, Secretary of The Friends of Kingswood House

Suggestions from The Social Change Agency about how the Friends could focus its activity on community archiving, help with door-knocking and outreach to the local community have really helped. 

The House has an exciting new managing organisation, Kingswood Arts CIC, who the Friends work closely with, and we now have over 100 names on our mailing list. With the support of The Social Change Nest, the group are looking forward with renewed energy to the future.

If you’re local to the Dulwich/Southwark area and would like to hear more from the group you can follow their Facebook page, here.

November 6, 2023

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