West London Buddhist Centre was of interest to us primarily because, at the time we visited, it was in the process of moving from a smaller, Victorian property to a modern building designed specifically for their needs, on the ground floor below luxury flats. West London Buddhist Centre, affiliated with Triratna, bought its current building in Westbourne Park, West London, twenty years previously. Prior to this, the community owned another building on New Portobello Road, and before this, had rented rooms in houses for group meetings and meditation. The building they occupied at the time of our interview was not considered ideal when originally purchased, in the main because of its small size, and the community had made several earlier attempts to relocate but had not found a suitable space that could also be used as a ‘non-residential institution’ (D1) in planning terms and which was also affordable in affluent West London.
According to our informant, designing a building from scratch is ‘unprecedented in (the Triratna) movement’ as more commonly, Triratna Buddhist Centres have been located in adapted existing buildings, such as the fire station in Bethnal Green for the London Buddhist Centre, which we wrote about in an earlier blog post. Working with a professional architects firm has allowed the West London Buddhist Centre to make its mark on the building, and enabled the community to get, as far as possible within the limits of the space, exactly what they think will suit, and reflect the needs and temperament of their community members.
This has included taking a rather minimalist approach, involving more muted colour schemes, fewer images of the Buddha or Tibetan thankas, for example. What is most interesting, perhaps, is the process that West London Buddhist Centre has been through with their architects firm. They have worked together to design a building that includes an open, public, space, but that as one moves deeper into the building, the space becomes smaller, more private, and quiet, as if in an inner sanctum. It was explained to us that this mirrors the process of meditation, moving from a loud, busy mind, to one which has been quietened and stilled. However, all of these conceptual decisions, as well as the plans for decoration, have been part of a much larger process of consultation within the community, to ensure that the new building space reflects the needs of as many as possible. Furthermore, the community does not plan to only use professionals to assist them in developing the space, but also to draw on volunteers as well. We were told that this was important to build and strengthen a sense of community.
The West London Buddhist Centre plans to use the space to host larger events, and will have a dedicated yoga studio. The community will offer a wider range of events, including a more ‘secular’ mindfulness course, which, it is anticipated, will take place within the studio. The result of which will, no doubt, be a widening of its membership and a broadening of the community.
What was indeed fascinating to us, as scholars of religion in contemporary Britain, was the fact that the new building was featured in the July 2014 edition of British Vogue! In this article (see below) the fact that a Buddhist centre was moving into the building was being used as a selling point by the property developers – how interesting that proximity to a Buddhist group is something that ‘enhances the value’ of the property in modern Britain!
At the time of writing this blog post, West London Buddhist Centre had relocated to their new home -and you can see some photographs of the finished interior on their website: http://westlondonbuddhistcentre.com/about-us/.
We can’t wait to visit again to see the building and how it is being used!