A first for Bulgarian roses as they make their appearance in Soho’s Golden Square.
By Boyko Boev

When you arrive at Piccadilly Circus, you are in the heart of the West End of the City of Westminster. You will notice the city going about its business and all the passing people, cars and lights. It is well known that authentic Londoners tend to randomly meet familiar faces in the crowds here.

Look around for the big pharmacy Boots. When you stand facing it you will see on your left, Sherwood Street, like the name of the forest where Robin Hood lived. Go down this street and on the right you will see the Piccadilly Theatre, where in 1928, for the first time, Londoners saw a sound movie with talking actors. Walk straight ahead for another four minutes and you will end up in a square.

This is Golden Square in the Soho district. The plan of the square was designed in the 17th century by Christopher Wren, the architect of
St. Paul’s Cathedral. Today, you can see the offices of world-renowned movie production house Sony Pictures Entertainment, advertising company M & C Saatchi and many other famous media companies. In the centre of Golden Square there is a monument to King George II, the last British foreign monarch (born in Hanover).

There are many roses around the monument of George II, all young and tender. They look like a ballerina before a dance. Among them you can see a new silver plaque, which reads:

“These roses are a gift to London by Bulgarian Londoners.’’ The roses are of the damascene variety known in the Rose Valley in Bulgaria. These are our Bulgarian roses. We call them ours because the members of our Bulgarian group planted them in London in April 2018. In November 2018 we pruned the rose bushes and put the plaque there.

Journey to Golden Square
English people appreciate their traditions. They are also great gardeners. It’s almost a miracle we got permission to plant roses and put a sign in the centre of London, and all by our own efforts.

It all started four years ago when a few
Bulgarians in London decided to meet each month to experience the British capital together. For the first year they headed for the Capital Ring – a 120-km route that crosses various London neighbourhoods and parks, making a full circle. Four of us walked the first part of the route. On the last stretch, 11 months later, we numbered 30. I remember during the last walk we passed through the pedestrian tunnel under the Thames and sang “High Blue Mountains”. During this year, we learned that when people have similar interests, they can easily become friends.

The following year, we went on a walk along the entire London area of the Thames, a total of 70 km. Every month, we gathered and walked 10 km along the river from west to east, taking pictures of the bridges. Do you know how many bridges over the Thames there are in London? (Answer: 33)
Our group grew bigger thanks to the site bulgariansinlondon.com, which we created to tell people about London, the British culture and our walks. Actually it was a participant’s idea. During this year, we learned that when people feel good they want to contribute what they can to common initiatives.

In 2016, we began to explore various London districts and met other communities (Nigerians, Indians, Thailanders). Sometimes Bulgarians showed the others their neighbourhoods. Sometimes someone else was leading our meetings. This year, for the first time, we realised that we have the strength and ambition to do something together. We sought everyone’s opinion, and if you were there you would have seen us at the end of the Mayfair, Soho, Fitzrovia or City walks, with questionnaires full of ideas for future events.

In 2017, our project, including a study of Bulgarians in London, group visits to the London police and City Hall and the planting of roses in the centre of London, was approved by a programme launched by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. It was the first time we had communicated with a London institution. This was the year we learned that they trust us and they want to support us.

In 2018, we conducted the first study of
Bulgarians in London, made by the diaspora itself, which we presented during a meeting at London City Hall. Thanks to the support of the London Mayor, we were authorised to plant roses in the centre of London. Did you know that the rose is the flower symbol of both England and Bulgaria?

In April we planted damascena roses to remind us of Bulgaria. A month later, with the permission of the municipality, we celebrated the day of Bulgarian Education and Culture.
In November, we pruned the roses and put up a plaque, to emphasise that our roses aim to make Londoners more aware of Bulgarians in both London and Bulgaria. This year we learned that we can do remarkable things together. And we are very proud of this.