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Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig

Five influential Londoners reveal the best places they found in 2020

From a theatre rehearsal room to a VR hangout, five Londoners reveal the spots they discovered this year that made their life a little bit better

By Paula Akpan
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2020 has been A Year, that’s for sure. While it may be tricky to count up the positives, considering the way our worlds have been effectively narrowed, in some ways, we’ve also been pushed to find new ways to enjoy our surroundings and frankly, keep ourselves sane. That’s why we decided to ask five influential Londoners which places they fell in love with this year, Covid be damned.

Read about the cornershops that got Londoners through lockdown and the best dishes London chefs ate this year

‘The best place I found in 2020’

Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig

An abandoned allotment in Chingford

Aisha Mirza, DJ, writer and founder of Misery Collective

‘I booked a herbalism course for me and my mum, where every month you go to a different green space in London and learn about the herbs that grow there and then you make a little medicine. Rasheeqa Ahmad, a medical herbalist, runs the course and honestly, I’ve just got really into it and have caught the bug for it: I just want to learn as much as I can.

‘She invited me to a weekly gardening project called Community Apothecary and every week, we go to different gardens and green spaces in London and slowly turn them into vegetable patches, forest gardens, medicinal herb gardens and the like, and once they’re ready, we give them to the local community.

‘It’s just such a peaceful activity to do, and this allotment in Chingford is one of those sites. It had been abandoned for 20 years and was full of brambles – you couldn’t even walk around it because there were thorns everywhere. It’s taken us about four months to clear it and get to a point where we can plant new things.

‘At a time when everything is fucked, gardening and planting are such easy things to return to. You can’t argue with a plant that has 17 different medicinal uses, that is free and easy to turn into a useful medicine that can help people. It feels so peaceful and right at a time when very little else is.’

Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig

A virtual-reality gaming centre

Things to do Event spaces Haggerston

Picked by Leyla Reynolds, artist, curator and creative

‘In a lot of ways, Otherworld, which is a virtual-reality arcade, is the best place I’ve ever been, despite me not really being a gamer gal. I initially went on a date there very early in the year with someone who was absolutely awful (let’s get this in writing) but I ended up adoring the place.

‘You’re in there for 40 to 50 minutes but you feel like you’ve been standing in your own immersion pod for a mere five minutes. You get a headset alongside a lot of sensors and then you can play a variety of games.

‘It’s so great for escapism. For instance: obviously, I couldn’t travel this year but there’s this whole Google Earth setting where you can literally just bound around the world. Conceptually, it’s one of the coolest things you can do this year, considering we’re so constrained.

‘I’ve been three times and each time it has felt really exciting to look forward to. It feels like a bit of an adventure during a time when you’re quite terrified of most actual interactions with people. I’m genuinely excited to see how these kinds of places may become more of a feature of our evenings and I’d love to see more digital interactivity in arts spaces, like exhibitions and museums, because I know there’s so much more we could do.’

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Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig

This Turkish restaurant

Picked by Brodie Meah, co-founder of Top Cuvée

‘I used to eat Turkish gozleme when I lived in Melbourne. Everything’s just healthier in Australia, so even the kebab shops have a good vegetarian thing going on. With London having such a rich and varied food culture, it was just a matter of time before I found it here.

‘I live in Bethnal Green, so when I cycle to work in Highbury, I go through Stoke Newington. During lockdown, that cycle between home and work became quite a focal point of my day. Along that route is Andina Gozlema, a huge restaurant on Green Lanes that you can’t miss.

‘With things being so busy at work, we don’t really have time to cook for ourselves, so it became my go-to for picking up delicious freshly made food for the team. It’s just the right balance of fast food: kind of greasy, but not too bad because it’s got spinach as well as cheese.

‘For me, this period has allowed me to look at my lifestyle and realise that we sometimes get sucked into going out to the fancy new wine bar, but some of the best spots in London are these old-school places with genuine hospitality and simple, flavoursome dishes. I realised that these are the places I want to go to spend time and money with my wife or close friends.’

Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig

This quiet park in Mile End

Attractions Parks and gardens Mile End

Picked by Ife Akinroyeje, founder of Wanderers of Colour

‘Mile End Park, its canal and pavilion, became central to so many of the things I did in lockdown. Walks got me through it emotionally and mentally. In the mornings I’d go for strolls that could last up to three hours because the canal just goes on and on and it’s so beautiful to walk along.

‘It’s so peaceful but it also so communal: there’s a community there and you feel it. In June I went for a really long walk with my housemates to get some free lunch from a giveaway and on our way back there was someone playing music on one of the balconies. They were DJing and had proper big speakers that were booming techno and house music on a Saturday afternoon in the sun. Obviously, we dropped our bags and started dancing, and all of a sudden, other people around the park did too.

‘I remember it was a time in lockdown when things were starting to get emotionally hard for everyone and it was just such a nice moment to be like, okay: let’s dance in the sun and remember that there’s other people around. It seemed like we understood that we’d all gone through a tough time but could still find unexpected pockets of joy.’

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Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig
Photograph: Rob Greig

A rehearsal room at the Lyric Hammersmith

Theatre Private theatres Hammersmith

Picked by Steven Kavuma, theatre director

‘I run a course with young people in theatre at the Lyric Hammersmith and we have rehearsal space there. I’ve fallen in love with it and with one room in particular. I knew from the start that this big open room was perfect for my classes.

‘I think I feel so strongly about the room because of the students I’ve been working with. I’ve clocked that these young people need to be seen. What’s happened on their journey, before they came to art, is that they simply weren’t seen. I’m now discovering, or having to undo and untangle, all these complications that people have had drilled into their heads: that they’re not talented, they’re not worthy, that they won’t survive in the arts.

‘The openness of the space allows us to educate but also to play games like Four Square. It doesn’t feel tight or unusable – it gives our young people space to breathe, express themselves and play. I think it’s important for them to know that they can be silly without feeling like people are watching and scrutinising their every move and this room facilitates exactly that.’

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