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Map with markers showing where CCC projects took place across the country. Urban by Nature in Walthamstow, London is in the north west and highlighted with a pink marker.The William Morris and Wood Street neighbourhoods can be found in Waltham Forest, a borough in north-east London. Today Walthamstow is rich in diversity and culture, with over 50% of residents coming from a BAME background. Sadly, there are pockets of social deprivation in the area. Around 40% of young people are currently living in relative poverty and 25% of pupils are on free school meals. 

Although there are problems, the area is alive with energy and a strong community spirit. This is being strengthened even more by people moving into the area, supporting the creation of jobs, investment and new infrastructure like arts venues, workspaces and homes.  

With strong links to English artist and designer William Morris, Walthamstow has become a hive of creative activity again in recent years, creating new and exciting opportunities. However, many people in the community face day-to-day challenges and hardships that can make it feel like art and creativity either isn’t relevant to them or won’t help them in any way. 

Here, members of the Creative Civic Change project Urban by Nature share their experiences of the programme. 

Focusing on young people and grassroots artists

Urban by Nature was a Creative Civic Change project made up of a group of Walthamstow residents passionate about their community. Some of us had lived in the area for as long as 20 years. Those involved in the project were all very different people in terms of ages, professions, cultural backgrounds and skills but we were united by our dedication to improving our local environment and creating opportunities for less advantaged people.  

Following a successful collaboration in 2016 to create a mural of William Morris, William Morris Big Local and Wood Street Walls decided to partner up and apply to be part of the Creative Civic Change programme.  

With William Morris Big Local’s grassroots presence in the community paired with Wood Street Wall’s ability to deliver high end creative projects, each organisation brought its own strengths. As Waltham Forest had recently been the London Borough of Culture in 2019, this provided an opportunity to engage with creatives and artists who had been overlooked by the programme and with residents who had not felt that it was for them.  

A pop-up shop was set up during the development phase to collect hundreds of thoughts, ideas and reflections on the power of creativity in Walthamstow. This shaped our plan with a focus on opportunities for young people and support for grassroots artists. We also wanted to connect independent businesses and creative outfits with the wider community. 

I really feel that the programme has brought many people together and fuelled community activism and expression through creativity.
Niamh Saint-Prenderville, Urban by Nature

How creativity changed our community

Urban By Nature completed a variety of projects over the duration of the program, ranging from community-led murals to creative activities in the town square. 

We delivered three consecutive years of the William Morris Design Line – a community-focused design route through the streets of Walthamstow. One particular highlight was the use of Fellowship Square in Walthamstow which has blossomed into an ongoing relationship with Walthamstow Council to deliver free creative events to the community.  

The project also saw the creation of a variety of public art pieces including ‘Brothers Fish and Chip Shop’ (2022) a vibrant mural for the side of a local chip shop; ‘Stairwell of Dreams’ (2022) by local college students; and ‘Pride is Everyday’ (2022) a vinyl window display created in collaboration with local designer Aimee Capstick and the William Morris LGBTQ+ Bar. All three pieces have uplifted the area and created fantastic talking points. 

Elsewhere we helped William Morris Big Local to develop its youth club by providing funding for creative activities and summer clubs. This funding helped raise membership numbers to over 100 and allowed youth club members to meet local creatives such as street artist HATCH. 

We also awarded creativity grants to local projects aimed at engaging the community with the theme of ‘Community Power’. These included The Future You Want, a free opportunity for young people aged 11-19 to craft and film their own spoken-word performance and Our Power, which is a walking art exhibition using shop windows and messages from local residents, workers and school pupils. 

During the William Morris Design Line 2022 Creative Work Space opened its doors as part of the E17 Historic Tour. They invited local residents to explore their space and take in their creativity. Photo Credit: Alastair Fyfe

The project has allowed us to connect and work with creative venues both old and new as well as artists and community spaces to put on a wide-ranging offer of activities and opportunities across Walthamstow.”
Gabriel Edwards, Urban by Nature

Georgia’s story

Georgia Bonfield, 24, moved to Walthamstow in 2020 to support her partner’s family after the loss of her father-in-law to kidney cancer. She didn’t know many people in the area when she applied for a job as our junior creative producer.  

This role enabled her to find her own place within the vibrant community in Walthamstow. She threw herself into creative events and subsequently became a youth worker with William Morris Big Local. 

Working with Urban by Nature has brought enjoyment and excitement back into this creative form for me. I also got involved in all the community events whilst recording them and absolutely loved the Cabaret at the William Morris Bar and the Crazy Horse at Blackhorse Workshop.
Elena, videographer

The above photograph shows the staff of The William Morris Bar who hosted a free drag and draw session as part of the William Morris Design Line 2022; they are situated in front of the aforementioned Aimee Capstick Vinyl window installation “Pride is Everyday”. Photo Credit: Alastair Fyfe

Looking to the future

To mark the end of our three-year Creative Civic Change journey we commissioned ‘The Useful & Beautiful’ project by artist Vasu Sellamuthu to co-create a collective narrative on the theme of home, being home during lockdown and how we all gradually come out of it.  

In Autumn 2020, residents of the William Morris and Wood Street wards were invited to respond to creative writing prompts inspired by writer Georges Perec.  

Our plan is for a selection of community contributions to feature on a unique, handcrafted storybox referencing the folding panels of a Rajasthani Kavad. It’s hoped that the storybox will be presented at a spoken word event, followed by a traveling exhibition in neighbourhood venues. 

Our most important legacy is the connections made because of our project. Not only the connections we have made with the community, but also the creative connections between artists and venues which we see continuing even now as the project comes to a close. 

Our legacy will be to continue providing opportunities for the community in Walthamstow to be creative. Our art tours in particular will allow us to provide work experience opportunities for local young people in the area.  

We intend to continue the William Morris Design Line, alternating years with the E17 art trail which takes place every two years. Our aim is to make this a staple event within the community, providing free creative activities to everyone. 

See Urban by Nature in action