In this Olympic year, we also remember the centenary of the death of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust.
She died on 13 August 1912, after a long career fighting for social justice, decent homes and open spaces.
Octavia Hill was a tireless campaigner and activist. Her letters brim with passion, determination and a ceaseless commitment to the cause of improving the health and welfare of the poorest in society.
In 1888 Octavia Hill published an essay, ‘More Air for London’. It was a clarion call for the value of open green space to London’s rapidly multiplying population, particularly those crammed into the slums and narrow streets of the East End.
Hill measured the open green spaces available in different parts of the city. She found that the affluent residents of west London had access to nearly eight times as much open space as those in the eastern half of the city.
But this was far from being a dry piece of social analysis.
‘This is different from reason and science: this is life, and this is pain. This urges me to speak, making it my duty to speak, and that before it is too late.’
Along with Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, Octavia Hill set up the National Trust to own beautiful places on behalf of the broader public.
Huge parts of the East End may now have been regenerated with the Olympic Park. But we know the social causes that Octavia Hill championed are still very real, in London and elsewhere in the country.
There remain huge problems of social inequality, urban deprivation, and a lack of access to open green spaces.
The green and pleasant land that Danny Boyle showed us at the start of the fantastic Olympic opening ceremony continues to be at risk from inappropriate and short-term development.
Therefore, as we remember Octavia Hill in the year that marks the centenary of her death, we can reflect on the continuing power of her ideas. There is much in our Natural Childhood report, for example, that Octavia Hill would have recognised and sympathised with.
The links between the causes Octavia Hill espoused and our present-day social issues are explored in more detail in a collection of essays published by Demos earlier this year while a conference at Sutton House on 27/28 September will take a closer look at Octavia Hill’s life and times.
On 22 October a special memorial service will be held at Westminster Abbey to unveil a new memorial stone to Octavia Hill – the first of the Trust’s founders to be commemorated in this way.