Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

destiny's child

  • Comment
PEOPLE - Nicky Gavron, London mayor Ken Livingstone's second in command, is a deputy with a mission. As the driving force behind the London Plan, one of her key priorities is to make London a safer, more friendly place for children

London's deputy mayor Nicky Gavron has that rare thing in politics, she says: the job she really wants. As Ken Livingstone's second in command and a driving force behind the London Plan, Gavron is helping to produce a vision for the capital.

With the draft plan due to be published early in the summer, Gavron has an agenda - to push the figures and statistics that underpin it. But what excites her most is how real people can contribute to the strategy.

Gavron is returning to the mission that first drew her into politics - to make the city more child-friendly. The way to achieve it, she believes, is by putting children at the very centre of the development process.

'Children have brilliant ideas, ' she says.

'Once they learn about design they can be very innovative.'

Inspired by the work of the Sorrell Foundation - which brings children together with designers to reinvent their school environments - she wants to see children learn how to become the client.

Through her 'Children's Strategy' she wants to explore how the under-18s can feed ideas into the London Plan in order to improve their quality of life in the city. The energy and creativity that children can bring must be harnessed, she says, adding:

'We need to be raising the consciousness of design with and for children.'

A key priority is to make London a safer, more enjoyable place for them to be. To learn from children where the dangerous spots on their routes to school are and how they could be made safe.

'Who better to look at the streets than the kids themselves?'

The issue is a familiar one. In the 1970s, Gavron was a young mother of four, with two daughters of her own and two stepsons she inherited when she married the publishing tycoon Bob - now Lord - Gavron. Their house in Highgate in north London was close to the busy A1. And with nowhere for her children to cross the road safely, Gavron began a 14-year campaign for a pedestrian crossing.

A campaign followed to save the local library, 'the centre and heart of the community'. And then, for many years her major project, the creation of Jackson's Lane community centre - now a much-loved north London institution.

At the time, the centre offered a space for local people to make things happen for themselves. Youth clubs, drama groups, parent support and drugs-awareness groups - all grew out of it.

'What I learnt then, ' she says, 'was the collective power of people working together and what they can achieve. The point of Jackson's Lane was that people had a stake in it. It was about bringing out the creative in everyone, making things happen for themselves. So many people got involved.' It is a philosophy that still fuels her enthusiasm today.

In 1986, the 'indefensible' disbanding of the GLA drove her into party politics. The move to centralisation under Thatcher went against everything she had learnt during her years of community activity.

Her first move as a fresh labour councillor for Haringey was to initiate a neighbourhood action plan for her area.

Local schoolchildren produced a 25ft scale model of Archway, which helped other residents and traders feed in their ideas for improvements to the area.

From the moment she moved into politics, she was determined there should be a renewed government for London. 'The only good thing about the abolition of the GLC was that it allowed us to reinvent London government, ' she says. And she is clearly thrilled to be a part of that.

The first thing the mayor asked her to do when he appointed her as deputy was to visit Berlin. Gavron's mother was a refugee, a Jew who fled Berlin under the Nazis at the age of 16. 'That's partly why I became a politician, ' she says. 'She couldn't speak out, which gave me a tremendous sense of injustice.' The Berlin visit was 'so symbolic'.

Gavron was born in Worcester, and moved to London at 18 to study the history of art and architecture at the Courtauld Institute. Looking back, she would have loved to have studied architecture, but blames bad career advice.

Throughout her career she has focused on planning. She chaired the London Planning Advisory Committee between 1994 and 2000, is a member of the Local Government Association, leading its reforming local planning group. She sits on the government's UK sustainable development commission and on English Heritage's London advisory committee.And last year, she was made an honorary fellow of the RIBA.

Her experience with planning has taught her to have a holistic approach. 'You can't look at housing separately from jobs or from open spaces. Social, economic and environmental - they're all interconnected.

That's why the GLA is so interesting. That's why the reform of the Green Paper is so interesting.'

The connection between London and Berlin is part of the mayor's strategy to develop relationships with five foreign cities - Tokyo, New York, Berlin, Paris and Moscow. Each will be hosting a conference as part of the collaboration, with London holding one on the environment.

London has a lot to learn, Gavron says. In a recent visit to Moscow, she explored the tube system. 'The gap between trains there is never more than 90 seconds. It's run like a military operation. Our aim is for 90 seconds on London's underground.'

Transport, of course, is crucial to her plans for London, and Crossrail will be the 'backbone' to future development in the capital. But while Gavron has high hopes, she will have to argue the case with central government for the resources needed. At the moment, the plans are 'a raft, but with holes in it', she says.

Gavron says her job as deputy mayor is weaving together the different strands of her career. But while she is moving on a larger stage, some things never change. She is still fighting to save her library.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.