Barnet Overseas Students Housing Association Ltd was started in 1967 by a group of people concerned about the lack of affordable housing in London for overseas students. Their aim was to provide purpose-built accommodation for full-time post-graduate students from all over the world. Sixty six units now make up this international community on a pleasant, leafy site which they named Nansen Village, after Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 1922.
Background to the conception and realisation of the Village
Kurt and Charlotte Weinberg had always searched for some way to help bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together. He had seen all too often the detrimental effects of “nationalism”; unnatural divisions between people based either on some sense of superiority or on fear. It occurred to them that much could be done to give a better impression of Britain to foreigners, especially foreign students. Students were an obvious focus because they were likely to be receptive to his views on co-operation and understanding between differing groups of people; they would also take their experiences home with them.
Too often students, especially those from developing countries, would come to Britain expecting excitement and sophistication only to find mistrust and hostility. Himself a refugee from Nazi Germany, Kurt was aware of the problems people face in a new country. For years he and Charlotte entertained overseas students in their home, but were frustrated not to be able to be more than good neighbours.
It became clear that the greatest problem students faced was finding a place to live. The housing shortage in London made private accommodation prohibitively expensive, and of the existing student housing apart from university halls of residence, very little was not affiliated with some religious or national organisation which catered only to certain groups.
The Weinbergs began to conceive of a whole community in which people from all over the world could study in peace, while at the same time exchange ideas, experiences and recipes with people whom they might ordinarily expect to have nothing in common.
The Barnet Overseas Student Housing Association was formed to put this scheme into practice. As a non-profit organisation, however, it had no funds of its own. To pay for any project it had to seek help from outside, although as a Registered Charity with an official patron (the local M.P., Margaret Thatcher) it appeared as a legitimate organisation to all prospective donors. The British Council eventually provided a grant that greatly assisted the Association to realise its project at Nansen Village.