'London's best kept secret:' welcome to Kensington Village

Neighbours call Kensington Village London's best kept secret and now they've decided to let the cat out of the bag.

Founded in 1870, Kensington Village was a village just west of the City of London

From left to right, Gabor Sass, David Heap and Stephanie Kelly all live in London's Kensington Village neighbourhood. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Past the glittering office towers and bustling restaurants of downtown London lies a little gem of a neighbourhood on the western shore of the Thames River. 

It's London's best kept secret.- David Heap

It has historic character, plenty of green spaces and homes with a look you won't find anywhere else. 

It's not Blackfriars – it's Kensington Village. 

London's best kept secret

London's Kensington Village dates back to 1870 when it was a village just west of the City of London. Like other historic neighbourhoods, such as Wortley Village, Woodfield and Blackfriars, it boasts some unique-looking houses. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"It's London's best kept secret," resident David Heap said. 

Founded in 1870, Kensington Village was just that – a village just west of the City of London that residents say once included the nearby neighbourhood of Blackfriars within its limits.

Despite its deep historical roots, the neighbourhood only recently started its revitalization, though Gabor Sass, who lives there, says its always been that way. 

 "It's a neighbourhood that has beautiful physical character and beautiful people living in it, "he said. "If you talk to the old timers, they say this neighbourhood always had this kind of spirit." 

There are few people who could forget this picture, which was taken in February and published on social media of Kensington Village resident Pauline Halstead kayaking along Walnut Street with her daughter Claire when flooding on the Thames threatened the neighbourhood's homes. (Pauline Halstead/Facebook)

The spirit he's talking about began with the Wood Park food forest, a community project that established free, fresh and accessible food inside a garden that anyone in the community can access. 

"The food forest came because a bunch of people were talking about how we were a community," Stephanie Kelly said, noting it was Gabor Sass, who is a professor in Western University's department of biology and geography. 

"A food forest is a multi-functional ecosystem that has been tilted in favour of humans. So most plants in there are edible, things like fruits, nuts, blackberries, raspberries," Sass said. 

Turned into a big celebration

Kensington Village is home to the Wood Street Park food forest, which aims to make fresh, free food more accessible. The project was made possible through community efforts. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"We had people planting," he said. "It actually turned into a big celebration, people brought food, guitars. It was a really good time and that just kick started this great community cohesion." 

With the success of that project, neighbours built a gazebo nearby for community barbeques. After that, they started a yearly summer concert series, where they invite local musicians to play for the community in Cavendish Park and an annual neighbourhood yard sale to raise money for community Canada Day celebrations. 

And all that work really brought people together when they needed it most. 

This spring, people worked together to help neighbours, whose basements were inundated with flood water after the swollen Thames River burst its banks in February. 

"There was some flooding," Gabor Sass said. "Walnut, Wyatt, Cavendish, so we put out the call and tried to help each other."

'It's still hidden'

Neighbours in Kensington Village have worked together on a number of community improvement projects, such as this pollinator garden built into a traffic island on Forward Avenue near Riverside Drive. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

So how do the locals feel about finally letting their secret out? 

Residents like Stephanie Kelly don't mind. In fact, they're pretty proud. 

"It's still hidden," she said, noting the community is looking to change that. "We are working on having signs put up saying it's the Kensington neighbourhood." 

"We have this joke that people who move in, don't move out and when people do move, they usually just move down the street and not out of the neighbourhood," David Heap said. 

Gabor Sass has some advice for anyone who wants to try to replicate the sense of community that the people of Kensington Village have created.

"Start small," he said. "Start with a party, invite your neighbours over and then it can snowball into something bigger."