There’s a network of ‘Cool Spaces’ across London for the heatwave

London: a soft breeze ruffles your hair. Clouds scud across an azure sky. You feel fresh in your crisp linen and matching facemask. The shady arcades and narrow streets are blissfully cool as you stroll across town, savouring the scent of orange blossom. That’s right, it’s the now-annual London summer heatwave and we’re all coping brilliantly with it: hanging around in Iceland, looking for muddy ditches to ‘wild swim’ in, reeking and moaning and being extremely English about it all. 

Luckily, mayor Sadiq understands all this, so has just announced that there will be a capital-wide series of ‘Cool Spaces’ (like safe spaces, but colder) open from today (July 19): where we can all go and escape the sun, bus fumes and craft-beer farts for a few precious minutes. 

A London park with shade
Image: Mayor’s Office

The serious side to all this is quite serious: ten of the UK’s hottest summers on record have happened since 2002, and London is not a great place to spend one of them. Owing to a phenomenon known as an ‘urban heat island’, big cities can be up to 10C hotter than the surrounding countryside, as traffic, infrastructure and surfaces like roads and buildings generate and store heat. The 2019 heatwave saw more than 100 deaths ascribed to overheating. On top of this, London is the worst place in the country for residents having outdoor space: more than one in five households in the capital have no access to a shared or private garden.

So being hot in the city is a real problem. The new Cool Space initiative sees local authorities, faith groups and others opening up buildings and facilities to help sweltering Londoners. They range from sports centres and libraries to churches and even some venerable cultural institutions, including the National Gallery, Tate Britain and the Wallace Collection. The spaces – inevitably – are broken into tiers: 

Tier 1 Cool Spaces: 

  • Open to all members of the public during weekdays from at least 10am-5pm, with weekend openings when possible  
  • Free of charge 
  • Access to free drinking water (water cooler, kitchen, water fountain, etc.) 
  • Accessible to disabled persons  
  • Access to toilets (on site or at a short walk with signposting) 

Tier 2 Cool Spaces: 

  • Open to all members of the public during weekdays with specified hours of operation  
  • Free of charge  
  • Clearly states level of accessibility to disabled persons 

Tier 3 Cool Spaces:  

Outdoor green areas, blue areas, or areas along blue spaces (eg river/canal esplanades)  

  • Publicly accessible  
  • Free of charge  
  • Shading (e.g. tree canopy cover) 

The mayor is inviting more venues and institutions to make themselves available to Londoners vulnerable to the heat. All the Cool Spaces are listed on a map produced by the Mayor’s Office. 

Okay, so London is some way off feeling like Seville or Florence in the sunnier months, but you know what? An hour in Lambeth Council Civic Centre doesn’t sound too bad right now.

Here’s a list of the spaces already open for Londoners: 

    • Lambeth Council Civic Centre
    • Little Venice Sports Centre
    • Moberly Sports Centre
    • Stratford Library
    • Tate Britain
    • The Mall Wood Green (Guest Lounge)
    • The National Gallery
    • All Souls Langham Place
    • Colombo Sports Centre
    • Custom House & Canning Town Community Neighbourhood Centre 
    • Green Street Library 
    • Havelock Road Gurdwara
    • Horniman Museum
    • Institute of Contemporary Arts Bookstore
    • Goethe-Institut London (Library, 1st floor)
    • Marcus Garvey Library (Library & Customer Service Centre)
    • North Woolwich Library
    • Plaistow Library
    • Porchester Centre
    • The Wallace Collection
    • Wash House Café at The Abbey Centre

More cold places to retreat to during the heatwave.

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