The London Centre is expanding, thanks to the acquisition of 31 Palace Court.
BYU and the Kennedy Center have recently completed the purchase and renovation of a third townhouse in London, adjacent to the two townhouses that already made up the London Centre. This new building will be a home for interns in the future, while becoming part of a beloved BYU institution with a decades-long history.
BYU in London
BYU study abroad programs in London date back to 1975, when twenty-eight students lived and studied in the city under the direction of Stanley A. Taylor (Political Science) and John B. Harris (English). For this first program, the students lived at a hotel and took classes at the Hyde Park LDS Chapel.
The program was successful, and after the first year, the decision was made to continue it in the future. At that point, it became clear that having a BYU facility in London was a necessity. Richard H. Henstrom, associate dean of the Division of Continuing Education, was tasked with finding potential sites. After a long search, a likely location was found: two neighboring townhouses, located at 27 and 29 Palace Court, near Notting Hill. At the time, number 29 was an apartment building; number 27 was owned by a hospital, but had previously served as the London “club” for Czech flyers during WWII.
BYU arranged the purchase of both buildings and renovated them. (Click here to see the buildings in the 1970s, along with their appearance after the most recent renovations in 2013 and 2014.) 27 Palace Court was fitted up with rooms and classrooms and became the main residence for students, housing around 40 students at a time; 29 Palace Court has flats for housing study abroad faculty and their families, along with additional student housing and the Centre's library on the ground floor. Later renovations created a doorway in the shared wall between numbers 27 and 29, allowing easy movement from one building to the other.
The first BYU study abroad students resided there in June 1977, and the London Centre has been in constant use since then, becoming a popular and sought-after destination for students. Kennedy Center director Stan Benfell says, “In terms of study abroad programs, BYU London is kind of the flagship program that’s run through our International Study Programs office.”
A New Opportunity
But other than the occasional renovation, the London Centre stayed largely the same until the next big change in 2019. That’s when Alan Phillips (now a General Authority Seventy) became the academic director of the Centre, and Alan and his wife Lindsey moved their children into the London Centre.
Lindsey Phillips, who now works as the London Internships Manager for BYU, recalls that the call that led to the acquisition of 31 Palace Court came almost immediately after they moved there. “Within about two weeks of starting his new role,” she recalls, “a friend who’s a real estate agent contacted my husband about a building on Palace Court that was available to buy. It’s really unusual to find a full building of flats available for purchase.” The asking price of the building had recently dropped. The best part? It was number 31, next door to number 29, which would allow BYU to own three buildings in a row.
Lynn Elliott, Associate Director for International Study Programs at the Kennedy Center, happened to be in London at the time; Alan Phillips told him about the available property. “I took it to Renata Forste, who was director of the Kennedy Center then,” Elliott recalls. “She took it to Sandi Rogers [International Vice President of BYU at the time], who said that she thought it was worth asking about and asked for a proposal explaining what it would be used for.”
So the Kennedy Center discussed potential uses for the building and came up with a proposal. Benfell, who was an associate director of the Kennedy Center at the time, recalls, “All along, the idea was that we wouldn’t use it to expand the London Centre study abroad programs; those would remain the same and have the same facilities. Instead, it would be primarily for internships—a linked but separate set of programs.”
Rogers took the proposal to the university board, who approved it. This doesn’t surprise Lindsey Phillips, who says, “London is such a popular destination; it appeals to students from many different disciplines. I think that extending opportunities for more BYU students in London was an appealing idea.”
With the university fully on board, the purchase process for the building went through surprisingly quickly. Elliott, who had originally thought that getting approval for the purchase could be a long shot, recalls, “In less than a month, we had approval; two and a half months after hearing about the building, we owned it. That’s lightning speed.”
“With property in London, you have to move quickly,” Lindsey Phillips explains. “There are so many people who invest in London housing, so when there’s a great property, it quickly becomes competitive. When you see something you want to buy, you have to move fast. I think BYU understood that.”
Before interns could begin moving in, the property had to be renovated to make the flats efficient and practical for student living. The process began—and then quickly came to a halt when the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020. “COVID absolutely delayed things, just in terms of getting workers in and being able to work on site,” Lindsey Phillips recalls. Because of that, the building wasn’t ready for use for two years.
In spring 2022, the building saw its first BYU residents—it was temporarily used to accommodate study abroad participants—and in winter semester 2023, everything was finally in place for 31 Palace Court to welcome its first interns.
A Prime Location
The facilities at 31 Palace Court have been carefully designed for the BYU intern experience. The building has six intern flats, each of which houses 6 to 8 interns in shared rooms, giving the building a total capacity of up to 32 resident interns. This allows the building to house as many interested students as possible. Each flat has a kitchen, laundry facilities, and multiple bathrooms. There’s also a faculty flat in the building.
One interesting feature of the flats is that each is named after an influential woman who has a connection to London, with their names creating an A to G lettering system: Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Martha Hughes Cannon, Emily Davison, Queen Elizabeth II, Florence Nightingale, and Mary Grant Seacole. Elliott explains, “Most of the students who participate in the London Centre programs are women; we thought it would be fun to have flat names that highlighted interesting British women.”
Additionally, there’s a common room that acts as a gathering area for the interns and provides a space for small events or seminars. It also accommodates interns whose hybrid internships have them working some days from the office and other days from home. “If an intern is working from home one day, they can leave their apartment and work there,” Lindsey Phillips explains. “This provides a sense of community when other interns are working from home at the same time.”
As the London Internships Manager, she arranges a few events each month for the resident interns, but they have a high degree of independence and autonomy. “Study abroad is more managed; every day something is planned,” she explains. “That’s not what this experience is. The main focus is their internships.” The occasional planned events help to create a sense of cohesiveness and community among the residents of 31 Palace Court. The interns also often plan outings together.
Young people starting out in a big city often find themselves in subpar accommodations, but that’s not the case for the interns residing at 31 Palace Court. “The condition of newly renovated 31 is really nice,” says Lindsey Phillips. “It’s been renovated to a beautiful standard, and I think the interns have been really surprised; they come and say ‘Oh, this wasn’t what I was expecting in central London for students.’ The flats feel very London-like in terms of decor and style and yet they are still practical for student living.”
And the location can’t be beat. The same things that drew BYU to Palace Court and its surrounding area in the 1970s still hold true today: the neighborhood isn’t too far from the heart of London, but it’s quiet and safe. Several tube stops are just a few blocks away, shopping and dining options abound, and popular locations like Kensington Gardens, Notting Hill, and Portobello Road are within easy walking distance. “It’s a real privilege to be able to live and work in that area in London,” says Lindsey Phillips. “It’s idyllic, really."
An Incredible Opportunity
31 Palace Court is open to any BYU students doing a London internship through the Kennedy Center’s International Study Programs office; the cost of housing is included in the cost of the program. Interested students are encouraged to learn more about what the International Study Programs office offers. Having interns at 31 Palace Court is still new, and Elliott hopes that over time, more students will take advantage of what’s offered: “It can house up to 32 students at a time, and our hope is that we can get to the point that it’s always full.”
Benfell hopes that 31 Palace Court can solve a few problems that interns often face. First, there’s the problem of affording their internship: “London’s one of the world’s great cities: a center for culture, music, finance, and more,” he says. “But London’s a very expensive city as well. So a lot of students get internships and the first question is, ‘How do you find housing?’” The facilities at 31 Palace Court will allow students to have an international experience in safe, affordable accommodations.
Second, there’s the problem of moving away from a familiar, comfortable college environment to an unfamiliar new place. “One of the problems with an internship is that when you’re in a strange city, you feel isolated; you feel like you don’t know people,” he says. “It can help to have a cohort of other interns: doing things together, going on excursions, having classes together. We hope this can be a positive experience.”
Lindsey Phillips, whose position lets her see firsthand the opportunities available to interns through the BYU London Centre, the Kennedy Center, and the International Study Programs office, also experienced firsthand how incredible it is that the acquisition of 31 Palace Court happened at all.
“We feel really fortunate that an entire building came up for sale right next door to the London Centre,” she says. “To have three buildings in a row is really unusual. We are grateful that it happened and that we’re able to extend more opportunities for BYU students to come and experience London. It’s not really heard of that often that things fall into place like that. It’s a huge blessing for BYU and for BYU students.”