The House of St Barnabas – Soho society at its best:
Intrigued by the name, which sounded just a little like something out of a Dickens novel, I set about investigating a little about The House of St Barnabas. A building on the corner of Greek Street and Soho Square the House of St Barnabas was indeed thought to have been the inspiration for the rooms of Dr Manette and Lucie in A Tale of Two Cities. Built in 1746 it has been a ‘House of Charity’ run by St Barnabas since 1846.
Inside the rooms are splendid. A sweeping ‘crinoline’ staircase, original ornate plastering, high ceilings and vast windows are complemented by careful furnishings and a contemporary art installation featuring donated works of art and revolving exhibitions from the likes of Tracey Enim, Jeremy Deller, Mark Titchner and Margot Bowman. There was a major event there the evening I went along to find out more, so I could only get a glimpse of some of the splendour, but it IS something quite special. There’s a very British feel about it, it’s definitely set in London not Paris.
Behind the stunning venue though is a serious cause. The House of St Barnabas has been home to the eponymous charity, which aims to help the homeless, since 1846. And the development of The Club with its range of facilities is all part of an integrated plan to enable that support to continue in a way that best meets the demands of twenty first century society.. While the top two floors are a training academy for life skills, with a particular focus on Hospitality Skills training. By working with The Club, participants have the opportunity to achieve a City and Guilds award in Hospitality and Catering as well as hands on work experience in the Club restaurant and bar. The initial course is intended to be in life-skills and isn’t limited to Hospitality, and whatever vocation the participants want to follow, the training centre tries to find them a suitable mentor to help them for the next year.
Downstairs, there are rooms exclusively for club members, including the comfortable bar where we sat drinking cocktails and eating almost healthy burgers, fries, salad and some wonderful aubergine fritters drizzled with honey for the evening. There’s also a formal restaurant, meeting rooms and a lounge. Catering is managed by Benugo, a group that I know and love from their work in venues like Westminster Abbey, the V&A Café and the Ashmolean Dining Room. Their partnership with The House of St Barnabas should help to ensure that participants in the training academy are well placed to find work in the Hospitality Industry should that be their aim. And of course, they will provide great food for the club members and their guests.
Then there’s the French Gothic Chapel, which is used for a quirky series of events including live music and talks with writers and artists. There’s a small but perfectly formed courtyard garden which should be a real sanctuary in summer. Finally there are some splendid reception rooms available for hire to the public; members still have priority booking these.
The membership pricing is interesting. I asked Chief Executive Sandra Schembri a little about the structure which is part fee and part donation, and she explained that the donation enabled the Charity to benefit from tax relief. And, that is rather a charming way of highlighting that this venture is all about putting something back. The Club operates as a not for profit organisation and registered Charity, and the donation element of your membership fee does highlight that despite being a rather wonderful Club in the heart of Soho, joining might just be doing some good for society.
Of course it’s all new – and membership is limited. So if you are looking for a central London base, it might just be worth checking out sooner rather than later.
1 Greek Street