Daily Maverick

At The Troyeville House, home is where the heart is

An old house on a Troyeville hill in Johannesbu­rg comes with a long history and heritage and now also a story of community, collaborat­ion and creativity. By Ufrieda Ho

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Joburg East rises and falls in slopes and valleys; its geography mirrors its nadirs of falling into neglect and deepening slum but also high points of opportunit­y turned to plan, a will to survive and a distinctiv­e creative throb.

Bringing these two worlds closer together, or at least finding better connecting points for a community with complexiti­es is, this spring, taking shape in The Troyeville House.

The contrasts to begin with are impossible to ignore. Here on the rise of a ridge stands a twin-gabled beauty. It’s a heritage house that traces its origin story to 1902, when Johannesbu­rg was newly made in gold and some people’s homes were built as monuments to wealth and power. It’s a house that seems out of place in the Troyeville of 2020 that has in the past few decades shifted from working-class middle to working-class poor and also those who are only just getting by.

Simon Sizwe Mayson, Noni Godole and Chann de Villiera are three of the new residents of The Troyeville House. They believe the old grande dame has life in her yet to play a different role in the community.

Mayson calls himself a changemake­r. His work, research and studies in wellbeing economics; urban developmen­t and urban planning have morphed into a PhD loading, an approach of immersive research turned into his life choice, and staying guided by a vision and personal intention to be part of building solutions. “I see The Troyeville House as being a home; a kind of safe oasis in the community as well as a heart for the community that generates ideas and actions and connects up to all the other projects and initiative­s that have already been happening in the valley,” he says.

For him, The Troyeville House will connect with other early childhood developmen­t initiative­s that he has already helped to set up. It includes a home for single moms and their children as well as foundation­s for a pre-school that will be based at Victoria Yards, which is also in the valley.

The valley includes the suburbs of Bertrams, Lorentzvil­le, Judith’s Paarl and Troyeville. There’s Nando’s internatio­nal head office, which intentiona­lly committed to its roots in this part of town. There’s the Troyeville Hotel, the Bertrams City Inner Farm and the Spaza Art Gallery. Spinning threads between them the many artists, artisans, entreprene­urs, waste reclaimers, hawkers and spaza shop owners strengthen webs in the most locally appropriat­e ways.

Mayson says the first phase of The Troyeville House – till the end of the year – will be a kind of living experiment. It will bring together residents who want to take their passions beyond their personal agendas to have a ripple effect that benefits the community. It will also offer residencie­s and host events.

The property includes a small community hall and what was once a chapel. There’s room for vegetable gardens as well as space to build an off-the-grid eco-cottage, which is already on the cards.

Renting out spaces for meetings, events and other projects will help the house become sustainabl­e. For the first year they are funded by their rent payments, funders and a sweet deal in the purchase of the house. The Troyeville House was last owned by the Enthoven family, who own Nando’s, Spier Wines and Hollard Insurance. The sale has even come with most of the old furnishing­s that belonged to the family thrown in.

For Godole, who lives in the cottage on the property with her three boys, The Troyeville House in its new incarnatio­n is about ideas, intention and impact. Godole met Mayson this year and found that through The Troyeville House she could combine her passion for cooking and traditiona­l healing.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Godole was able to do the cooking for the soup kitchens that were set up as part of a local response to hunger in the neighbourh­ood. Her cooking has become a business, but it’s eating as breaking bread, nourishmen­t and following a kinder approach to the planet that checks our greed and our wild consumptio­n of animals.

“I think people are moving in a direction of wanting to understand about what they put into their bodies, being closer to the wisdom of our ancestors and also that that cannot just be about your own wellbeing,” she says.

For Godole, arriving at the house is a turning point; it’s showing up, adding value and recognisin­g her own value too.

It’s part of the wellbeing economy that Mayson says is a guiding principle for the house. It’s about seeing value and contributi­on beyond the convention­al of deep pockets, old privilege and paperwork from universiti­es.

De Villiera calls herself “a girl from the hood”, having grown up in Joburg East. She understand­s the pressure of suburbs that fall through the cracks easily. In the past few years she’s worked to reimagine city spaces and buildings, focused on keeping them connected to their communitie­s – not existing as bubbles.

“I claim all the heritage and beauty in Troyeville House now that my partner and I live here, but I also don’t want this house to be a monument that people never see the inside of or feel that they don’t belong when they come through the front door. It has to be outward looking and it has to be about giving ideas a chance to grow into something,” she says.

Standing on The Troyeville House porch, she has a view right across the valley. It stretches past Ellis Park Stadium to where the Hillbrow Tower and Ponte pop up to signal Jozi’s skyline.

De Villiera stays with the gaze – it’s looking out to a city she loves, also to what might come next. “It’s beautiful; and it’s a new start,” she says. DM168

 ??  ?? Simon Mayson interacts with local children in Makers Valley outside The Troyeville House, a heritage site in the inner-city neighbourh­ood. Photo: Chris Collingrid­ge
Simon Mayson interacts with local children in Makers Valley outside The Troyeville House, a heritage site in the inner-city neighbourh­ood. Photo: Chris Collingrid­ge
 ??  ?? Co-founders Simon Mayson and Chann de Villiera. Photo: Chris Collingrid­ge
Co-founders Simon Mayson and Chann de Villiera. Photo: Chris Collingrid­ge
 ??  ?? A meeting of changemake­rs in The Troyeville House. Photo: Chris Collingrid­ge
A meeting of changemake­rs in The Troyeville House. Photo: Chris Collingrid­ge

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