Friends History

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Ben Whitaker and Peter Catto 1991-93

In Spring 1991 Ben Whitaker (previously MP for Hampstead) and Peter Catto commissioned the London Business School to assess the feasibility of setting up a non-profit organisation for the future protection of Regent’s Park.  The main purpose of the “Friends of Regent’s Park” was provisionally described as follows:

“The conservation and enhancement of Regent’s Park for the people who live and work in the environs and enjoy its facilities”

The London Business School concluded that “Our results both qualitative and quantitative provide sufficient evidence to recommend that the Friends of Regent’s Park should be launched, and a survey established that the tranquillity of the Park is its most valued feature”

A preliminary meeting was held in July 1991 attended by local residents, and it was agreed to proceed.

A further meeting was called in September 1991:

  • To authorise the establishment of “The Friends of Regent’s Park” and consider its constitution
  • To discuss the registration of “The Friends of Regent’s Park under the Charities Act 1960 and determine who should be appointed as Trustees
  • To decide upon the organisation and officers of the Association
  • To consider the proposed membership and subscriptions

Ben Whitaker and Peter Catto were elected co-chairmen, Hilary de Ste Croix was elected Secretary and Michael Goldhill was elected Treasurer.

It was left to the newly elected officers to decide strategy, and the immediate matters of concern that the Association should address including:

  • The situation of the Zoo
  • The intention to privatise some of the services inside Regent’s Park
  • Improvement of amenities

It was decided to publish newsletters to inform members of developments and progress by the new Association, its involvement in current and future plans, and its concern in maintaining an exceptional environment

In 1992 responsibility for the Royal Parks was transferred to the Department of National Heritage. In April, Ben Whitaker and Peter Catto held an open meeting in the Committee Room of the London Zoo at which Dame Jennifer Jenkins, who had been commissioned by the Secretary of State to carry out a study of the Royal Parks, spoke of her hopes that the identity of each park, would be respected

Dame Jennifer Jenkins presented her report to the Secretary of State in 1993, and in September the constitution of the Friends was approved.


Richard de Sainte Croix 1994-1998

In 1992 Richard, a successful solicitor, was invited by Peter Catto and Ben Whitaker to join them running the Friends of Regent’s Park.  Richard became co-chairman with Ben Whitaker, and in 1994 became chairman. In March 1993 Valerie St Johnston was appointed Secretary

The Friends opposed plans to privatise some park services, previously managed by the Park.

Friends had annual meetings with the Minister for the Environment, and subsequently the Secretary of State, and initially there were pledges to maintain funding levels. However, from 1995 Government funding started to creep down, causing, for example, elimination of the apprenticeship scheme. An early campaign concerned a request by the Zoo to acquire an extra 16-20 acres from the Park. Richard led a successful campaign to resist this during which Friends demonstrated in the Park holding hands around the area in question.

The Friends campaigned to improve Park amenities: for example, potholed paths were repaired, and sculptures and monuments were restored, including the Readymoney Fountain.

Primrose Hill was initially disregarded by the Friends, but late in Richard’s tenure it was included in the Friends’ remit, and the Friend’s name and logo was amended accordingly.


Valerie St Johnston 1999-2006

Valerie St Johnston took over at the time when concerns of the Friends included:

  • Disregard for the historic landscape – no respected architect or land architect involved in its care
  • Deterioration in the fabric and quality of some areas of the Park
  • Declining government funding for the Park
  • Lack of coordination between the various bodies in and surrounding the Park e.g. the Crown Estate, British Waterways, London Zoological Society, the American Ambassador, Regent’s College, St John’s Lodge and the Holme
  • The manicured and municipal nature of some of the horticulture. Fears of outsourcing of Park work
  • Traffic and parking problems

Matters during Valerie’s tenure included:

1995 Nesfield (Avenue) Gardens completed.

Primrose Hill added to the name.

1996 Cycling in the Park became an issue.

Draconian cuts made in the Regent’s Park office and police.

1997 Feral cats around the Open Air Theatre were a serious problem

1998 Lottery money for the Readymoney Fountain was secured in 1999

1999   The first Regent’s Park Flower Show opened in June, but it rained every day.   A year later the same weather spoilt the second show.  Sadly, the organisers have not attempted a third.  Great pity!

The Royal Parks Forum was established composed of the Chairs of the Friends of all the Royal Parks.  Regular meetings ensure close connection and cooperation between them and with the Secretary of State.

Malcolm Kafetz the treasurer created a computer programme to run membership, subscriptions, and banking.   He also negotiated the 25% discount at park cafes.

Activities included visits to other London Royal Parks, and to places of local interest such as the London Planetarium, Madame Tussauds, backstage of the Open Air Theatre, and evening tours of the Zoo.


Malcolm Kafetz 2007-2014

The dominate concern of the Friends during Malcolm’s time as Chair was the Royal Parks proposal to allow GOALS plc to take over an historic section in the north of the Park to build a 5 a-side football complex.

Although told that the matter had been decided, and would not be changed, Malcolm led a robust campaign to oppose this project, rallying support from old and new Friends’ members.   During this campaign he:

  • Made sure the Royal Parks were aware of the level of objection coming from the committee, the members, Camden Council, Westminster Council, London Zoo (ZSL), local business, cafes, restaurants.
  • Got Friends’ objections on TV and Radio, and in newspapers as well as support from Sue Macgregor, Simon Jenkins and many prominent local people.
  • Post cards (designed by the late Ivor Kamlish) objecting to the plan, were handed out, signed and sent to Westminster Council.
  • A protest march, complete with protest banners, was very well attended despite cold and wet December weather.  “Yellow ribbons” tied round old oak trees highlighted the number of trees that would be chopped down.
  • Much networking took place behind the scenes to highlight the cause.



Much to the relief of the Friends, at a council meeting well attended by objectors including many of the Friends, Westminster Council refused Goals plc planning.  Council commented that they had received an unprecedented number of objections.

Sadly the 100 year old Golf & Tennis School on the northern border of the Park had already been demolished in anticipation of approval of the GOALS project.   Despite pressure from the Friends it could not be re-instated.

Malcolm became Chair of the Royal Parks Forum.  Regular meetings with the Secretary of State were held and the reduced budget for the Park was constantly highlighted.

The Royal Parks introduced exhibitions such as Frieze and Taste, which have proved commercial successes. Reasonable plans to avoid too much disruption to Park users and residents were negotiated.

Throughout his tenure Malcolm was determined to protect the Park from over commercialization, exploitation, noise, anti-social behaviour and uncontrolled cyclists.


Conall Macfarlane 2014-2015

Two issues confronted the Friends during Conall’s time in office, High Speed

Rail 2 (HS2) and the Cycling Superhighway 11 (CS11).

The prime concern regarding HS2 was centred on HS2 Ltd requisitioning the Zoo car park for use by

lorries removing the spoil from the tunnelling.  HS2 proposals indicated it could involve 800 movements a day. Conall appeared before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, but the Friends petition, like so many others of a similar nature, met with summary dismissal.

CS11 was a proposal principally driven by Transport for London (TfL) to create

dedicated sections of road or pavement for use by cyclists. The Outer Circle in

Regent’s Park, and the opening and closing of the various Park gates, were a critical part

of the scheme.  Conall attended eight workshops to discuss the proposals, but it became apparent that

there had been little consultation with residents outside the Park, and an opposition group

applied for a Judicial Review.  This was granted and the scheme was rejected by the Court on the

grounds of insufficient consultation.

The conflicting requirements of cyclists, and the difficulties faced by pedestrians wishing to cross the Outer Circle, remain unresolved.


Ianthe McWilliams 2016-2019

Against a backdrop of the Royal Parks becoming a charity in 2017 and the Parks’ continuing need to raise money through large events, especially Frieze and Frieze Masters and Taste of London, the main things occurring when Ianthe was chairman were:

  • Updating the membership process, and doubling the subscription to £20;
  • Surveys of membership;
  • Support for a range of activities in the Park including regular concerts on the Bandstand;
  • Responses to key consultations, especially HS2 and CS11.


Administrative updating

Friends went through a painful but necessary process, aided by volunteer Alan Martin, to convert a largely manually administered membership process into an online system.  The subscription was raised to £20 the first change since 1991.  Membership records were transferred to “Paysubsonline” (later renamed “Love Admin”) and set up so applicants could join and pay through the website. Paper membership “cards” showing an expiry date replaced the elegant but costly green oval enamel badges.


Support for a range of park activities in particular the revival of concerts on the Bandstand

The AGMs provided the opportunity to record the support the Friends had given to various aspects of the Park.  Contributions were made to the refurbishment of the Bandstand, where many Friends acted as site supervisors at concerts; to the allotment garden; to buy new wildfowl; towards new cherry trees in Chester Road; towards a bird identification noticeboard; to the Open Air Theatre; and to the new Snowden Aviary Colobus monkey project


Surveys of membership                                                                                      

Surveys showed that Friends’ top priority was to preserve its beauty. In response to the question “What would you like the Friends to do?”, more walks covering birds, trees and plants were popular. Several bird walks with Tony Duckett, the Royal Parks bird expert, were well attended. Members were also asked about themselves. Over 65% had been members for over 10 years, 16% for over 20.   More than 80% lived within 15 minutes’ walk of the Park, 9% lived in the Park and its Terraces and 80% came to the park on foot, 6% by cycle and 12% by car.


Responses to key consultations especially on HS2 and on CS11

HS2: In 2016 Friends unsuccessfully petitioned the House of Lords against HS2.   A third of the Zoo carpark was cut off for Thames Water to make preparatory works for HS2, to be followed by 16 or 17 years of use as a lorry holding area. The breeding hedgehog colony in the Park favours the Zoo Car park, and it is feared they could be endangered.

CS11 TfL’s formal consultation period on CS11 launched in February 2016.  The proposed cycle superhighway was intended to go from Swiss Cottage to central London, passing through both sides of the park on the Outer Circle.  The scheme included closure of 4 of the 7 gates to the Park except between the hours of 11am and 3pm to discourage through traffic  The Friends response to the consultation argued  there were many other ways of making the Outer Circle safer for cyclists without shutting the gates: for example reducing the speed limit to 20mph. However, the many authorities with conflicting interests in and around the Park could not agree and in the end the proposed scheme was overturned when Westminster took an injunction against TFL to prevent them modifying the Swiss Cottage gyratory.  However, the Royal Parks did apply for the necessary legislation to change the speed limit to 20 mph, but with Brexit occupying all Parliamentary time at the end of 2019, it did not get changed.


Planning and developments

Other Park developments on which Friends gave their advice included the refurbishment of the

Broad Walk café; building a new café at the foot of Primrose Hill, Gloucester Gate playground, and

a trumpet shaped drinking fountain by the Readymoney Fountain.


Mark Elliott 2020-

Mark took over in November 2019 just before the onset of the Corona virus that dominated the life of the country for much of 2020.  TRP issued their draft Movement Strategy that foresaw a reduction of through traffic from the Park that was strongly supported by the Friends.  During Covid, Primrose Hill became popular place for all night raves and the Royal Parks and the Police faced difficulties responding to complaints from residents living near the Hill.

Despite difficulties arising from holding remote committee meetings using Zoom, between 2019 and 2023 membership grew from 700 to 1200.  New initiatives were taken including a new website designed to improve the experience of Park visitors, the creation of extensive Events and Volunteering programmes, a summer Visitor Information centre at Clarence Gate, and replacement of the LoveAdmin back-office system with a White Fuse system whose much greater functionality was better adapted to meeting the Friend’s needs.


Patrons – Joan Bakewell/Judy Hillman/Linda Lennon

Dame Joan Bakewell

The first patron of the Friends was Joan Bakewell, now Baroness Bakewell who held the position from 1991 to 2006,

Judy Hillman

Judy lived in Primrose Hill for 50 years, and had a thorough knowledge of the Park, not just as it is today, but also, of its history and how it developed. This knowledge was invaluable to each Chair and to the committee. In her working life she was an active journalist working for a technical journal called the “Muck Shifter and Public Works”. After that she joined the Evening Standard where she progressed to become chief leader writer, and later working for the Guardian, Observer and Taylor Woodrow. From 1979 she was a free-lance urban consultant and writer.

Her specialist knowledge of Regent’s Park resulted from an invitation to be a member of the Royal Parks Review Group chaired by Dame Jennifer Jenkins. The Group looked at all eight Royal Parks, and Judy was responsible for writing five reports published between 1992 and 1996.

Judy was an active participant in the Friends and oversaw the many changes summarised in the history of the Friends above. The Friends were fortunate to have Judy as such an active and knowledgeable Patron.

Linda Lennon CBE

Linda became Patron in November 2020.

Linda was born in Surrey in 1963 and attended Wallington High School for Girls.   To fund a ‘gap year’ before university she took a job as an administrative officer for Croydon County Court.  Enjoying the work, and the promotions, she never went to University, and by 2003 had become Area Director for the 28 London Civil and Family Courts. It was during this time that Linda got to know Regent’s Park well as she worked nearby for 6 years at the Central London Civil Justice Centre in Park Crescent West.   In 2009 Linda was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Parole Board.

In Olympic Year 2012, Linda was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Parks, a position she held for three years, and enjoyed very much.  During this time, she laid the groundwork for transferring responsibility for the Royal Parks from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to the Royal Parks Charity that was created in 2017.  In 2015 Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London appointed her Chief Executive Officer for the Olympic Stadium.

Linda’s experience at The Royal Parks and the CEPC, and her association with numerous political figures in local and national government, make her the perfect person to oversee the Friends.   Described as jolly and sunny, Linda’s bubbly character soon makes her a friend of those she meets.   Her interests are wide, and varied, so she particularly loves the diversity Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill offers.


Park Managers – David Castleton/Nick Biddle

Our History would not be complete without thanking the Park Managers with who the Friends have worked since 1991.   David Castleton was appointed in 1980 and was Park manager for 27 years.  Nick Biddle took over in 2007 and has since been in the position.

Al though we may have had our disagreements from time to time, we should be enormously grateful for the enthusiastic support the Park managers have given to the Friends over the past 28 years.  Without their support, the Friends could not have made such major contributions to help create the wonderful Park that now exists or be in the strong position it is today.


Other notable contributors to the Friends

Over the years there have been many people who, other than the Chairs, have devoted their knowledge and time to help the Friends succeed.  The following list mentions a few but by no means includes them all:


Ivor Kamlish – over 20 years on the Committee and a major contributor to almost 100 Newsletters.  Ivor’s wonderful artwork has been appreciated by all

Marion Kamlish – for her enthusiasm about everything from Honey to Hedgehogs

Stephen Crisp – on the Committee for over 20 years and master of everything horticultural

Michael Goldhill – Treasurer from 1991 to 1998 and always a keen supporter of the Friends

Richard Portnoy – as treasurer for 10 years an enthusiastic member of the Bandstand team

Diana Newman – who meticulously prepared the minutes of dozens of Committee meetings

Anna Kafetz – for constant support to her husband Malcolm

Margaret Elliott – the Membership secretary who raise the enrolment to over 1000 and contributor to numerous Newsletters

Anne- Marie Craven as editor of almost 50 Newsletters and leader of many walks through the Park

Ann Muller – Researcher and archivist who wrote numerous studies of houses, statues, trees etc









Final Note

As can be seen from the History, the Friends have not always agreed with TRP and their Park manager but the 1993 Constitution of the Friends and article 2(iii) reads

(iii) To scrutinise and review the way the Park is administered with particular reference to the standards of landscape gardening whether at the planning or execution stage.

The most visible time when the performance of this difficult constitutional aim had a major influence on the creation of the wonderful Park that exists today, was the Friends 2008 opposition to the GOALs project for 5-aside football pitches,  Not only did it preserve a wonderful area of green space at the north end of the Park but, in 2019 the GOALS company collapsed into administration having overstated its profits by £40 million, been accused of a tax accounting scandal and been de-listed by the London Stock Exchange.  It is hard to imagine what would have happened to this sports centre as this situation evolved.  We should be proud that Friends, led by Chairman Malcolm Kafetz stood tough in the face of intense pressure.

London March 2023

With acknowledgement of the contributions from the 6 Chairs