Daria Solomatina visits Grosvenor Square’s summer festival to enjoy jazz, tea parties, trade secrets and community cohesion.
People don’t naturally associate Mayfair with the festival vibe. Indeed, when you stand surrounded by the Millennium and the Marriot Hotels, and the Indonesian, Italian and US Embassies rather than muddied revellers, somehow, stretching out and kicking back in Grosvenor Square doesn’t cross your mind.
However, this year, until July 17 the Grosvenor Estate is holding a free ‘Summer in the Square’ festival hoping to warm up the traditionally conservative central London location, with a number of free activities and performances including a ukulele workshop, yoga and mindfulness classes, giant games, artistic workshops and theatrical and musical lunchtime and evening performances.
The Mayfair Sports day is lined up for 8 July, featuring traditional races and medals reserved for the winners. The day after is Children’s Day – when face painting, hair braiding, balloon modelling, and circus training activities are taking place, with treasure hunts for all ages. Cake decorating, cocktail making, tea parties & dancing , as well as the Grosvenor Film Festival are also on the lavish list of entertainment, designed to make Mayfair attractive not only for tenants and residents of Grosvenor and the adjacent areas of Belgravia, Fitzrovia and Knightsbridge, but anyone willing to share the fun and the traditionally British atmosphere of the place.
That atmosphere is complimented by British fayre provided by local businesses. Chase Gin & Tonics and ‘Fizz and Chips’ (fish, chips and champagne) are provided by the Running Horse pub in collaboration with Pol Roger. If not artisan, the food and drink is still predictably refreshing: there are burgers and Pimm’s to go – all done to give a very British zest to the Festival experience.
As well as this Grosvenor Square is hosting multiple ‘conversations’. On my visit last week I heard the multi award-winning general manager of Michelin starred Mayfair restaurant Galvin at Windows, Fred Sirieix, who is also a star of the Channel 4 show First Dates. When describing his worst experience while dining in other restaurants he complains about ‘having to work harder than the waiter’ when it comes to ordering your food. As a result his service philosophy is ‘you name it, I do it’.
You are unlikely to hear a restaurant manager’s secrets of the trade at many other festivals, but although it’s a niche conversation it is crucial to sending out a message of inclusivity in the area: ‘The stereotype is that Mayfair is synonymous with luxury, and therefore is this Festival appropriate? – Absolutely yes,’ says Keith Bailey, Mayfair Location Director at Grosvenor’s London Estate. He believes that ‘making people enjoy themselves and feel happy’ is an integral part of building a successful neighbourhood. ‘For us, Mayfair is a beautiful place, it is well designed, the architecture is beautiful, but unless you have this community feel it becomes a soulless place. To make sure it’s a people’s place you need this kind of community activity.’
The National Youth Jazz Orchestra playing in the square
There is a big mix of occupiers and residents within Mayfair. And over time property lenders and investors have realized that it is important to animate the street spaces. ‘There is appreciation, within Grosvenor, but also in the wider property industry, that the spaces between the buildings are almost, if not more, important than the buildings themselves,’ says Bailey. Already there are echoes of that sentiment across the capital as estate managers in Covent Garden, King’s Cross, Soho and Shaftsbury are lining up community events and festivals for the whole year.
Mayfair’s integrity lies in its dynamism and vigour, something applicable to financial as well as community investment, and still true post Brexit: ‘Last week London was probably the world’s number one city,’ says Bailey. ‘Obviously, that has been a quite significant change since Friday, but I believe a lot of fundamentals haven’t changed – the people that are here, the diversity, the level of economic activity. It would be hard to change all of that. I think it is a resilient place that will come through.’
The sound of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra playing Almost Like Being in Love, Bare Necessities or Bad Bad Leroy Brown that I heard there last week will no doubt be a welcome distraction for the area’s besuited hedgies and asset managers keen to unwind after a day pent at their screens. In fact the NYJO have already had a ringing endorsement from the financial community: ‘Our latest sponsor is Natixis Global Asset Management,’ says Nigel Tully, executive chair of NYJO. ‘They are one of the world’s biggest asset management companies. Their President and CEO, John Hailer, is a big Jazz fan.’ No doubt such partnerships are a community cohesion this festival hopes to echo.
Summer in the Square is on in Grosvenor Square until 17 July, it is free and open 11am-8pm