In the latest of our 5 Ways to Wellbeing blog posts, Jessica Brand, Lecturer in Academic Literacy, takes us on a tour of the area surrounding our campus in the capital.
The University has a campus right in the East End… the foundation of Britain as a trading nation since the Romans first set up here in c. AD 44. Placing the primary meridian at Greenwich shows how significant this area was in the development of maritime navigation for global commerce and naval defence. So, in terms of setting co-ordinates, London is still the centre of the world, welcoming to incomers and absorbing cultures throughout the ages. This can be seen at the Migration Museum which offers insight into the influence of migration and the wider cultural integration into London and Britain more widely.
There are many opportunities to build friendships and meaningful connections that boost self-esteem and a sense of belonging, both on campus and in the local area.
- On campus: In the reception area, there are sofas if you want to sit and chat, or, if you want a little more to eat there is the conservatory café, and right next door to that there is a great log-cabin to hang out and play games (supplied, or BYO). There is a courtyard garden in the summer months, full of birdsong, lavender and buzzing bees, roses and trees, providing a secluded setting for a little bit of nature in the city.
- Poplar Union: Within ten minutes’ walk of the campus, the wonderful Poplar Union has many activities, local music, art events and even has a bakery at the café on the canal.
- Limehouse Community Café: There is another community café in Limehouse, which also has the Limehouse Project – a multilingual, multicultural centre for advice, training and support.
Looking after your body can also positively impact on your mental wellbeing with exercise, however gentle, being associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups (Mind, 2022).
- Take a walk around: There are plenty of parks around the campus, or a short distance away. There are walks along the canal, and round the docks, a fascinating array of houseboats, yachts and narrowboats.
- Swim and gym: Within walking distance from the campus the leisure centre in Poplar has a fantastic swimming pool and gym facilities, and there are plenty of other gyms around, if that’s your thing, even one in the hostel next door, free to access if you are staying there.
- Get on your bike: Nearby are some excellent cycle routes – blue tracks on the road for the ‘Cycle Superhighway’ CS2 and 3 take you into the heart of London or out to the Greenway. TfL’s maps for cycleways or footways shows how you can whizz or amble your way around the city, and where you can pick up and drop off the bikes to hire.
It goes without saying that your university campus is a source of learning and enrichment, but also take some time to learn about history, art or anything else that takes your interest – you are in London after all!
- Explore the Museum of London (Docklands) A 10 minute walk from campus to Canary Wharf will bring you to the Musuem of London (Docklands) which is a feast of information about London and specifically this area – from the Roman era to today, tracing the waterways and how they have been utilised, including the eye-opening experience of sitting in a WW2 shelter and reading about the Blitz.
- A museum for any interest: Around the corner from the Museum of London, there is a book museum, or go back up the Mile End Road and you can visit the Ragged School Museum (currently being refurbished) to learn about how people used to get an education! With the East End being on the doorstep of London there is so much to see and learn from – from traditional sites such as the Tower of London to the latest ‘Vagina Museum’ (!) in Bethnal Green with all the art and heritage in between, around here every day is a learning opportunity.
If you want to give money or time there is every opportunity to do so – Tower Hamlets Council offers supported volunteering opportunities in every area – befriending, teaching, guiding, mentoring, event stewarding, helping out at food banks, working on the parks or being a trustee – from an hour a week or more. If you are a musician or an artist there are places to showcase your talents (such as at the Poplar Union) and a chance to get into local networks of like-minded people.
Generosity has been a feature the area – from the iconic ‘Queen Victoria Seaman’s Rest’ to the contemporary ‘Seeds for Growth’ project assisting local people set up enterprises, and to have better lives. The East End Community Foundation aims to combat social isolation and provides a framework to build a strong community – also offering volunteering and learning opportunities on the local farm (at Mudchute), a chance to develop leadership skills in youth and community projects as well as assisting in grant applications. There is a huge range of organisations in this area that would value your time whether you are a successful expert in your field, a young person just starting out or simply someone looking for something to do.
Located in the shadow of Canary Wharf, you might think that this little campus is swamped by the gleaming structures of the financial district, but there are multiple features here that are much older than the ‘80s behemoth.
- East India Dock Road This is the main artery into tourist London of towers and bridges and is lined with London Plane (looks like sycamore) that the Victorians planted all over London for its ability to resist pollution. The leafy giants not only break up the view of the plainer blocks of flats, but add a graceful edge to the place – from catching the wind that comes along the Thames to providing much-needed shade in too-hot summers. This grove of trees accompanies you West to Limehouse or East to Blackwall, through famous Poplar.
- Poplar (5 minute’s walk east) got its name from poplar trees. Once prolific, growing on the alluvial deposits from the Thames, the Black Poplar is one of the local varieties of the tree which could live for two hundred years. The National Trust is at pains to preserve this species as there are dwindling numbers nationally, so they are a rare thing to find. Home to pie ‘n’ mash and the last of the Knees Up Mother Brown pubs, today’s Poplar has true grit, clearly visible in the oddly spelled Chrisp St market where truly exotic fresh fruit and Halal butchers proliferate, and there is something here for everyone. You can learn more about the Poplar area here.
- Heading West, the first right turn where the East and West India Dock roads meet will take you over the canal (that leads up to the Lea), along Mile End Park and into Victoria Park. This massive park is ‘the green lung of the East End’ receiving nine million visitors a year. The Chinese Pagoda was originally built in 1842 for a Chinese exhibition, this may have been a consequence of the Victorian/economic interest in China but it’s interesting to note that Poplar itself was, until the 1950’s, London’s Chinatown.
Jess Brand is a lecturer at the University of Cumbria in London and enjoys uncovering the incredibly rich history and culture in this area.