THE PARENTHOOD: HIGHBURY AND ISLINGTON
Jeananne Craig on what it's like to be a parent in the London stretch of Highbury and Islington
Landscape: From the chi-chi cafes and restaurants of Upper Street to the wildly expensive townhouses looming over Highbury Fields, this area oozes wealth. Breathe in and the scent is a fragrant cocktail of freshly applied Farrow & Ball, Ocado van exhaust fumes, and half-empty Ella’s Kitchen pouches. Delve a little deeper, however, and you’ll find some welcome grit and hidden gems – from the edgier shops and pubs of Essex Road to the magical New River Walk with its wading ducks and weeping willows. And, as for posho Highbury Fields? Look closer and you’ll still see the scorch marks left by summer barbecues on the grass.
Hangouts: At first glance, Euphorium on Upper Street might appear to be a Bugaboo showroom, but it’s actually a tasty bakery and coffee shop. In fact, it’s so popular with Islingtonians that there are two branches on the same stretch. The aforementioned Highbury Fields has a great playground, and a well-resourced stay-and-play at the Bandstand. But the beating, caffeinated heart of the park for parents is the wonderful outdoor Oasis Café, with its myriad of toys, walkers and big cars for kids (and scavenging pigeons – but hey, good for their immune systems, right?). Venture down the hill in the direction of Finsbury Park and you’ll find the Little Highness café on Highbury Park, with soft play to distract your little one/s while you devour a delicious sandwich or cake (try the chocolate brioche).
Events: There’s a Saturday Puppet Club and regular fun days and holiday clubs at Little Angel Theatre, a 100-seat theatre and workshop tucked away off Upper Street on Dagmar Passage. There are also plenty of family-friendly events at The Word Festival celebrating reading, writing and freedom of expression (June), and the Angel Canal Festival along Regent’s Canal (September). For rubber-neckers like me, there’s also a steady stream of weddings emerging from Islington Town Hall every weekend. Bring tissues.
Parents: An international bunch – French, American, Japanese – and pretty affluent too (lots of lawyers, bankers etc), given the sky-high rents and house prices. It’s not uncommon for parents here to attend baby classes with their nanny in tow.
Local celebrities: Lots of celebrities live in Islington, from Keira Knightly to Su Pollard and The Fast Show’s Paul Whitehouse to author and diehard Arsenal fan Nick Hornby. Artist Grayson Perry has a studio in the area and can often be seen on Upper Street. And try to refrain from booming, ‘Have I got news for YOU!’ if you spot Clive Anderson out walking his dog.
Instagrammers: @molly_meg_ is the Instagram account for Essex Road shop Molly Meg, an independent emporium of children’s furniture, gifts and party supplies run by Molly Price. Think cloud pillows, star garlands, and fox print bedding.
Classes: There are classes in abundance here, from Latino Bambino (‘salsa fun for baby and mum’) on Upper Street to Bach to Baby classical concerts in Christ Church on Highbury Grove. But be prepared to fork out – the price of classes in Islington can be in the double figures. For cheaper (and often free) fun, head to one of Islington’s many great children’s centres and libraries for stay-and-play or Baby Bounce.
Mums wear: Brora cashmere; Sweaty Betty athleisure wear; well-maintained highlights.
Dads wear: Canada goose jackets; designer thick-rimmed glasses; running gear.
Kids wear: Petit Bateau; Baby Gap (for low-key days); Little White Company.
Places to avoid: The area’s more hipster cafes, where laptop workers abound, and a pram is about as welcome as a dose of cystitis.
:: Follow Jeananne Craig on Twitter @jeanannecraig