Hear about the community street art that has been uniting local residents
St James Street Big Local chair Sebastian Salek gives our journalist-at-large Ryan Herman an art-themed tour of his community and explains why supporting a series of local creative projects has put this corner of Walthamstow on the map.
“The street art, the murals and the artists that we’ve supported through our Big Local fund have made a big difference within this community. It has generated a lot of positive publicity, but more importantly I think it has given the St James Street area a distinct identity.
For example, the huge mural of the badger and bird by Belgian street artist, ROA, is at the site of what used to be a rundown car park. We identified it as a space that had the potential to house something more valuable to the community. The council owns the land, there were a lot of ideas mooted and this was still quite early in our Big Local story.
“You can see the badger and the bird as you come into St James Street Station from central London.”
“The concept was that the council gives the land rent free for five years to CRATE – an organisation which supports micro businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into a business. There are revenue sharing agreements with the start-ups who occupy a collection of units on the High Street. This means they haven’t been hit as hard as others by COVID-19 because their overheads are lower.
“You can see the badger and the bird, which is about bringing nature to an urban environment, as you come into St James Street Station from central London. So it’s in a brilliant position and immediately it’s clear we’re not just another homogenised High Street.
“The tiled mosaics at St James Street Station were created by the community during lockdown. Several hundred people did their own designs and Maud Milton who is a local ceramicist has created them for each stop on this stretch of the London Overground.
“ATM is an artist known for his works featuring wildlife. He created this collection of birds on Coppermill Lane and the idea was to make the connection with Walthamstow Wetlands, Europe’s biggest urban wetland, at the other end of the road.”
“’Spend Your Time Together’ was created by an artist called Survival Techniques. She actually completed this a long time before the pandemic. Then, during the first lockdown, somebody added their own take on it. So I spoke to her and said ‘what do you want to do?’ and she said ‘leave it for now. It’s a response to our times and some of the difficulties that people are having.’”
We used the space to promote art by local schoolchildren, champion local key workers and promote our next project.”
“Last autumn we put on an exhibition in what may be a contender for the smallest gallery in London. The 1B Window Gallery is situated in front of a substation that supplies electricity to most of the area and therefore there is only so much space you can use.
“Working with other local groups, local artist collective Invisible Numbers got permission from UK Power Networks for the space to be turned into an art gallery. During a period when lockdown restrictions had been lifted, we used the space to promote art by local schoolchildren, to champion local key workers and promote our next project which is a street-greening programme.”