Less-Stress London Islington Guide
The sprawling borough of Islington stretches from the borders of Crouch End down to Farringdon and encompasses the vibrant hubs of Angel and Clerkenwell. Home to a lively food and culture scene, it has a youngish population — almost half of its residents are between the ages of 20-39. Its diverse character attracts people from all walks of life.
It’s not just house-hunters and career professionals who flock here, but also students and low-income residents. In short, this is a borough of surprising contrasts, and the health and wellbeing needs of locals can vary wildly. Fortunately, there’s plenty of inspiration and incentive for all to adopt or maintain a more balanced lifestyle.
Explore Green Spaces | Wellbeing and Natural Therapies | Local Leisure and Indoor Fitness | Outdoor Pursuits and Activities | Food and Wellbeing | Mental Health | Community Support
Islington Green Spaces
Whilst the borough is a densely populated, built-up area, a little legwork can reveal some alluring green spaces.
The award-winning Culpeper Community Garden, close to Chapel Road market, is a charity run by and for locals who don’t have their own gardens. On site, you’ll find well-tended vegetable plots (including raised beds for disabled gardeners) and a profusion of flowerbeds to wander among. The Garden runs art workshops and events and is a popular lunch spot for local office workers.
A hop, skip and a jump from Highbury & Islington station are the grassy expanses of Highbury Fields. The park is a magnet for sports lovers (see outdoor pursuits and activities for more on facilities) and on site is a playground opposite the small, friendly Oasis cafe. The cheery owner serves coffees and teas, cakes and savoury dishes too.
The beautifully landscaped, mile-and-a-half long New River Walk is graced with shady trees, including willows and cypresses, and there are a few benches if you fancy a longer time-out. The waters here are home to ducks, moorhens, coots and other wildlife. Above ground the walk is roughly between Canonbury and Essex Road train stations.
Dominated by a striking Victorian clocktower, Caledonian Park, off York Way, features a sizeable Green, as well as small, wooded areas and a tree-lined avenue.
With a playground, outdoor chess sets, peace garden and cafe as well as sports pitches, Paradise Park is a well-cared for and much-needed green space close to the gritty Holloway Road. It also adjoins Freightliners City Farm (see below). For a bit of London wild in an unlikely setting, head to Gillespie Park, a nature reserve a few minutes from the Emirates stadium. Here you can properly lose yourself amidst the woods and wetlands or visit the Ecology Centre.
Islington Wellbeing and natural therapies
Withdrawing from the hustle and bustle of the streets is easy in a borough that amply caters to those keen to de-stress, relax and rebalance.
Buddhist meditation practices which focus on mindful breathing and metta bhavana or ‘loving kindness’ can be learned at the North London Buddhist Centre in Holloway. It offers low-cost courses and events for beginners and more experienced practitioners.
The UK-wide Meditation Trust offers Transcendental Meditation classes for all, at a venue near Old Street. In this method, a mantra technique is taught as a route to a quieter mind. Fees are determined by income and follow-up group sessions are available.
Complementary and alternative therapies are the focus at the Healthy Living Centre opposite Highbury & Islington station. The centre also hosts supportive group sessions and clinics.
The Life Centre between Angel tube and Essex Road station is a hub for lovers of movement and natural therapies. On the timetable are restorative and more dynamic styles of yoga as well as classes for those affected by cancer and low-cost yoga therapy sessions. The range of complementary therapies on offer is impressive too.
If the prospect of intense heat doesn’t deter you then head to Yoga Haven on the Pentonville Road for hot yoga classes. The studio claims to be carbon neutral, and is currently supporting renewable energy projects, to offset the energy generated in their studios.
If you’re looking for movement with a creative flavour, A Call to Dance offers 5 Rhythms, a cathartic practice for self-expression, movement, healing and connection. The Islington University of the Third Age offers weekly yoga and pilates sessions for seniors in a few locations. Members pay an annual £30 subscription, but after that sessions are free.
Islington Leisure and indoor fitness
Where to begin? The abundance of public leisure centres, private fitness clubs and gyms across the borough means there is ample opportunity to conquer inertia and reap the benefits of exercise.
The cavernous Sobell Leisure Centre, close to Arsenal’s Emirates stadium in Holloway, ranks as a one-stop hub for all things fitness. With badminton and squash courts, a gym, swimming pool, dojo, climbing wall, children’s soft play and even an indoor ice-rink, it caters to all ages and offers classes in the week.
In amongst the smarter private health clubs (notably Virgin and Nuffield) Fit4 Less is a budget-minded alternative. It’s strictly no-frills: there’s no sauna, steam room or pool – but for new or dedicated gym users, it offers the works.
On the community front, The Rose Bowl, 10 minutes from Highbury & Islington station, offers weekly sports for children and young people (badminton, volleyball, boxercise and football) as well as arts and crafts.
Opposite the Caledonian Park, and next door to an adventure playground, sits the smart Islington Tennis Centre, a complex catering to beginners, pros and clubs, with courses and competitions galore. Learn the game or hone yours on the indoor or outdoor courts (one of which boasts a view of the park’s clocktower). There’s a gym here too.
Towards the south end of the borough, the restored Ironmonger Row Baths, originally built as a public wash house, has swimming pools and a gym, as well as Turkish baths.
In addition to its classes at Sobell, The Karoon Taekwondo Academy has two more outposts, in Upper Street and Old Street. The school offers adult and children’s classes and hosts competitions.
The Finsbury Leisure centre boasts squash courts, sports hall, outdoor football pitches and classes. (It, like the other public leisure centres listed here, is run by social enterprise Better, in partnership with Islington Council.)
Islington Outdoor pursuits and activities
For an inner-city enclave Islington is surprisingly well-served when it comes to alfresco activities. Wonderful Outdoor Gyms, free open-air gyms in parks and green spaces, can be found in Rosemary Gardens, Elthorne Park and Paradise Park.
Tips for cyclists
The Islington Cycling Club offers weekly training rides. (Their Saturday ‘social’ ride ventures beyond the borough into Regent’s Park.) For renters, the southern end of the borough has several Boris Bike docking stations. Leisure cyclists who wish to steer clear of traffic can try the scenic route between Islington and Victoria Park, via the Regent’s Canal towpath.
On the waterfront
The waterway is also home to the Regents Canoe Club, a kayak club that caters for adults and runs courses in spring and summer. It shares its City Road Basin address with the Islington Boat Club, a watersports leisure and RYA approved training centre, which is open to adults, teens and children. Here you can learn to kayak, canoe and sail, helm a narrowboat or powerboat, or try paddleboarding. The centre offers taster sessions, runs a dedicated youth club, and has boats specially adapted for those with disabilities.
When it comes to outdoor sports, the biggie is (the aforementioned) Highbury Fields, with bookable tennis courts, a football pitch, netball courts and basketball hoops. Those who enjoy the simple pleasures of a good stroll or hike and fancy a bit of company or need motivation can join a walking group. The Highbury Walkers get together for weekly walks around Highbury Fields.
The cheery-sounding Izzwalkz group, run by Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, hosts social walks for people who are out of work, in various locations in the borough.
Finally, Islington’s parks host seasonal one-off events and activities. For fun runs, outdoor celebrations, children’s activities and more, check out the Islington Events Diary or park noticeboards.
Islington Food and wellbeing
The ethical side of the Islington food scene is flourishing, although many of the highlights are clustered around the centre of the borough.
Mother Earth, a low-key community store which sells organic food and health products, has a branch within the Healthy Living Centre near to Highbury station, and another on Newington Green (which has more erratic opening hours).
For a bustling neighbourhood vibe and organic veg, free range and organic meat, artisan foods and local delicacies, pop into the Islington Farmers Market, in residence at the Chapel Road Market on Sundays. Here, you’ll also find Indian Veg. This budget, ethical Indian restaurant has been around for over 30 years and is a friendly spot. It’s characterful: the place is plastered with posters attesting to the joys of a cruelty-free world. Fairly standard curries, rice and salads are served all-you-can-eat buffet style.
On the gastropub scene, the pioneering and friendly Riverford at the Duke of Cambridge, close to the Regent’s canal towpath, is Britain’s first and (it claims) only certified organic pub. Food and drink are impeccably sourced – fruit and veg are grown on Riverford’s Devon farm.
Continuing on the ‘farm to plate’ theme, the Food Assembly has three hubs in Islington. You pre-order food from local growers and producers and then once a week, pick up your order and meet fellow members and those who’ve produced your food.
Though not exclusively for non-meat eaters or organic, the independent Candid Cafe, behind Angel station, offers a charming alternative to the borough’s more upmarket veggie eateries (like The Gate, below). It’s informal, cosy and in the evenings, a candlelit haven.
If you’d like to do more than fill your plate, check out Food Cycle. The charity aims to alleviate food poverty and social isolation. Volunteers collect surplus food, cook it, serve it and share it with guests from the community. The Islington hub serves food Wednesday lunchtimes at the Southwood Smith Centre.
Islington Mental health
Given its glossy, aspirational image, you might be surprised to learn that Islington has the highest number of serious mental health issues in the country, and the highest levels of depression in England (according to the Cripplegate Foundation).
Being aware of the resources that are available to you is the first step to getting the help you need. Here are some that don’t require a referral: The Spiral Centre is a holistic therapy centre in Holloway that provides counselling and psychotherapy to those on low incomes and its team of therapists from diverse backgrounds.
A UK-wide network, The Depression Alliance, has a hub in the borough. It hosts self-help groups, can offer information on treatment and recovery and arranges for people to meet up with others experiencing depression. The therapists at Finsbury Park’s Refugee Therapy Centre hail from a refugee or immigrant background and are empathetic to the cultural and linguistic needs of local refugee and asylum seekers. The services they offer include individual and group therapy, specialist psychotherapy and counselling, and support for refugee volunteers.
Solace Women’s Aid helps women of all ages (including seniors) affected by domestic and sexual violence. The charity, on Brewery Rd, near to Caledonian Park, offers an advice line and immediate, short-term help, including referral to a safe refuge, as well longer term support and counselling.
Age UK Islington isn’t only for the elderly – the service helps any resident over the age of 16 who is facing health or social care challenges. Listening, offering advice, hosting get-togethers and activities and helping to facilitate helpful connections are all part of the charity’s mission.
Islington Community support
Inner-city boroughs often have an abundance of ventures, voluntary and otherwise, that strive to inspire positive change and support people whatever their background or belief. Islington is no exception.
Several churches in the borough open their doors to the homeless in the winter months, and offer beds and food. The project is run by CARIS Islington who also help guests to find more permanent lodgings.
English, writing and art are among the confidence-building, learner-centred classes offered at the drop-in Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants. The centre, on Coin Street, off the Essex Road, offers advice, support and hot food to clients. It’s currently open three days a week.
Shelter from the Storm is an emergency night shelter for the homeless (guests need to be referred here). Volunteers can sign up to help with cooking, laundry, cleaning, serving breakfast or chatting with guests on a well-organised rota.
Voluntary Action Islington is first port of call if you’d like to offer your time (everything from befriending to caring for animals can be found via their search engine) or have a placement that needs filling. If you run a local group, you can get advice and support here too.
The Old Fire station in Holloway is the base for The Holloway Neighbourhood Group, a community centre catering to young and old alike. The eclectic range of free or very low-cost daytime activities include tea dances, a sewing class, dominoes group, film club and gadget workshops.
Project Dirt, who are based in the borough’s Peabody Estate, but work across London and further afield, brings together people and grassroots community projects, especially (but not exclusively) those with a growing, food or gardening focus. Their online forums are brimming with resources, events and activities to join.
The Health and Social Care Act requires Islington (London Borough of Islington) to set up a Health and Wellbeing Board to act as the principle structure responsible for improving the health and wellbeing of the local population through partnership working.
A requirement of the Health and Wellbeing Board is to produce a Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy to steer the major strategic work on health and wellbeing in the borough. It will be the duty of the Health and Wellbeing Board to balance needs carefully and to make difficult decisions about strategic priorities given the resources available.
Purpose of Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy
This Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy (JHWS) will provide a focus for the board and assist in setting priorities locally.
It is not intended to be a detailed plan of action but instead sets out those areas that are of the greatest importance to the health and wellbeing of Islington’s population and will be used to inform the setting of priorities including those within local commissioning processes.
Informed by our Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA), which describes Islington’s population and the current and future health and wellbeing needs of residents, we have prioritised three outcomes to achieve our vision. These are:
- Ensuring every child has the best start in life
- Preventing and managing long term conditions to enhance both length and quality of life and reduce health inequalities
- Improving mental health and wellbeing
Taken from Islington’s joint health and wellbeing strategy.