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How Londoners get their space and endorphin highs in the city…

I was reading an article written by Ann Gates, Founder of “Exercise Works” for The Design Council as part of their “Active by Design” campaign, (see links at bottom). It struck a chord with me, especially as I am still remembering that lovely mountain air I had over Easter. She said this…

“Sedentary living has become the norm, we’ve created environments where we are expected to sit and stare. Active transport, active environments and active spaces could make our lives healthier and more playful. How much more effective would health policies be if environments, transport, buildings, products and spaces were designed, intuitively, by doctors and designers, to keep our bodies active and our minds sharp?”

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London is a jam packed place with hundreds of things to offer us for anything our hearts can desire. Sometimes it might be hard to see the wood for the trees as we run about at one hundred miles an hour. I have been a Londoner all my life and when you live somewhere this busy for that long, you can occasionally inadvertently develop the “100 yard stare”. There is so much in your visual line all the time that you unconsciously start to filter out a lot around you. Maybe one’s brain is needing some space?

But, we can take a moment and think about how there could be more we can do for ourselves in the downtime choices we make, and even in our living arrangements and interiors to help us relax, detox and find space to get off the conveyor belt every so often and recharge.

Over the last few years I have noticed changes in the way people want to work out. In the 90’s, gyms were the in-thing, and there are still plenty on offer, all generally packed to the rafters on Saturday mornings and Monday evenings. It can be so frustrating to want to get on the treadmill, plug yourself into iTunes to work out but then to have to queue for a machine!…. and still be limited to 15 minutes because somebody else wants a go too…grrrr.. that just adds to stress levels surely?

The work out and exercising alternatives are plenty if you know where to look.

Triathlon (swimming, cycling and running) is the fastest growing activity in the UK – and London too. It gives those that want it the frenetic, hard core level of exercise they may be craving, but in a structure where you can train outdoors and under your own steam.

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“Park Run” is a weekly, FREE series of timed, 5K runs held around the world, with many of our London parks hosting them. Participants range from the seriously fit runners to more leisurely, have a go runners.

On top of that, our green spaces are full of people running/jumping/squat-thrusting around for an hour under the watchful eyes and barking orders of “British Military Fitness” instructors and personal trainers etc. Even gym based trainers are starting to take their clients outdoors if they can.

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I do a boot camp each summer, it starts at 6:15am (eek) but it is an amazing start to the day and SO good working out that early, with nobody else around at that time. For me, it’s a summertime thing only though. However, there are plenty of punters there at 6:15am on blizzard like, January mornings wearing thermals and doing the same thing in the snow and all year round! What’s wrong with a lie in and the gym I hear you cry! Open water swimming is on the up and yoga is also a hugely popular activity these days, as people realise the added benefits of finding mental space too. Speaking of which, mindfulness, meditation and shamanism is huge business with a growing audience. Just this week in The Sunday Times Style magazine there was an article about CEO’s reaching to speak to their shamans (!) rather than calling up their Matt Roberts trained gym instructors.

Camping trips are also growing amongst Londoners. We have even managed to move away from “glamping”  to more traditional camping with actual tents in actual fields. It is BIG business. Of course, being Londoners, some of us can’t possibly partake of the great outdoors in this way without blow up double mattresses, feather down duvets, fluffy pillows and cooking arrangements to butterfly a lamb, spatchcock a chicken or even cook a lobster thermidor. Infact, I know of Londoners who have found ways of arranging an Ocado delivery directly to the campsite.

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It is easy to draw the obvious conclusion from the above. Londoners crave a bit of SPACE.

We are looking to find, create and hold onto those slower moments of peace and tranquility. It doesn’t mean we love London any less, it is more of an un-conscious need for some balance to the buzz, so we don’t burn out.

This is why property near parks, water, sky high views or postage stamp sized gardens/roof terraces/balconies are priced at such a premium. From an investment perspective, I always make sure I get at least one of those aspects onto my tick list, whether the market rises or falls, these properties will always be in the top slice of saleability or rentability.

As for interiors , it is really important to create spaces in your home that will cancel out any of the frazzled feelings we all sometimes get when living in such a busy city. Whether it’s a bathroom with a bath to soak in, a bedroom with no TVs, phones or gadgets allowed or much loved personal items surrounding you – anything that gives you that deep-breath-out feeling the minute you step over the threshold. The aim is to un-hook. Perhaps we could all do with trying to create a bit of this in the metropolis…


I think that any space can be made into a positive sensory experience and a private, healthy bubble away from the frenetic, active buzz on London streets.

Endorphins are released into your system not just by exercise but also by colour, light and nature. I love colour and texture and most of my clients’ interiors have a great depth of both to give sensory experiences. I have also designed spaces where I have suggested my clients look at particular scents as part of the scheme – it’s back to that thing I said right at the beginning of these blog pages ; ‘places, spaces and feelings’. You do not have to be into property, interiors or trinkets to achieve all this. By becoming spatially and internally aware and asking the question “What do YOU need to do to relax?”, you can address the changes you need to make to your life to ensure you can zen out every so often.



So. There are no excuses. We can all put down those gadgets and have a “digital sabbath” as a friend of mine calls it. If you are too tired to exercise, get into first gear and walk through one of our amazing London parks and sit on a bench with your single-shot-long-short-tall-skinny-one-pump-of-fat-free-caramel-soya-latte and watch others run around in fifth for an hour or two. You will notice the difference in your walking pace afterwards I promise!

It is easy to enjoy some simple downtime in London and find some space – you just need to have a few options in your back pocket that you can call on as and when you need them.

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Regents Park

Clapham Common

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