As soon as I caught sight of Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London I knew it was a place I wanted to spend some time in and - to be honest - have a good look around.
It has an intriguing, quirky history.
Jamyang was originally a Police Court (then Magistrates Court) in Victorian times and hosted the appearance of some extremely high-profile individuals in its later years until it closed in 1990. It is a Grade II listed building. A giant golden Buddha now takes the place of the judge in the former court room, its main space (see below).
Instructions for entry: 'Keep calm and ring the bell. Welcome to Jamyang'.
This beautiful building became Jamyang's home in 1995 after Mother Theresa's application for planning permission for a centre for the homeless was refused and an application for conversion into luxury apartments failed to garner enthusiasm.
Over a six month period I attended a yoga course there which was independent of the Centre, but made use of its former court room and café. The old court room retains its wooden beams and a wonderful high ceiling. On a sunny day, abundant light pours in through the windows, which is particularly noticeable when you lie down for savasana and then re-emerge from it. Under floor heating makes it extremely comfortable for yoga practice in colder months.
Jamyang feels peaceful and welcoming as soon as you step inside. As you might imagine, its staff are friendly and discreet.
The Tibetan origin of its work is evident throughout the building. Some of the bright and bold pieces reminded me of the sacred art I saw in a high-altitude monastery I visited in neighbouring Nepal in the late 90s.
The Centre offers a number of spaces for meditation and study, all sharing its relaxed air and simple yet homely aesthetic.
We enjoyed delicious vegetarian cooked lunches in its cafe, though this is only available to course participants at the weekends I believe and needs to be ordered in advance.
There is a charming courtyard, complete with semi-hidden spaces for quiet conversations or contemplation, well-tended plants and reclining Buddha.
You can still spend the night in a cell as these have been converted into accommodation. They are very small and some of my fellow students who tried this option felt that one night was enough! The other cells are used by staff.
I can't comment on the Centre's own courses, but each of my days there felt like a perfect day retreat, sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the city. The building's history makes it a special place to spend time and reflect. An environment designed for public use, it continues to serve this purpose, if in a somewhat different way. If you have the chance, go.
You can find Jamyang Buddhist Centre at The Old Courthouse, 43 Renfrew Road
London, SE11 4NA, a few minutes' walk from Kennington tube station on the northern line.