Community. Define

Soon Up Your Street seniors will go along to represent seniors from around the once poorer London boroughs at an event in Shoreditch organised by Dr Leila Jancovich et al from Leeds University. The aim of the event is to find a positive amongst the structured but failing community and cultural offerings given out to the masses by the traditional cultural centres such as museums and art galleries and recently popped-up community hubs. Coincidentally in Waltham Forest the drive is on to enhance people’s cultural outlooks through art and the arts by the borough showing off as the Borough Of Culture: The first ever Borough Of Culture.

Those seniors twelve years old in the Up Your Street organisation say it like it is and it isn’t grand. They have attended tens of workshops from collage art to 3D printing to interactive theatre to drawing and movement. Often the workshops precede an art exhibition or a museum treat. For years those older participants have known that community engagement is a fluff and that their names settle on a tick-sheet to please funders. Better for the money drip is if the photos taken by the white middle-class trustafarian interns can show people of colour. Any last-minute evaluation sheets are loaded towards no rocking of the boat too. The only way participants can show displeasure is by not returning the next time. Next times are rare but anyway the facilitators at workshops don’t clock the names or faces of their public. Seniors do not matter.

Museum staff have since last year and beyond abandoned their brown wooden wall image to open out their welcoming arms particularly to the disinterested youth and the older more working class generation. Hackney Museum was well ahead over ten years ago and is a wonderful place to learn about the local people and their cultures. People from every background feel represented and own the venue.
The William Morris Gallery morphed into a shop and the café is neither magnet nor affordable to those folk who bring by habit their own flasks.

Art Galleries link with artists outside their perspex walls and intellectualise everything from living spaces to the shirt on your back to entice a population of people who never put art on their daily agenda. This is when art needs a definition. Schools are ready-made bait for culture and it is assumed that working class parents never take their children along the tunnels in Kensington during the half-terms. In all that, community artists spring up in every centre, exhibit and try to belong to an elite in an art world which is business always.

Exhibitions are still expensive. Up Your Street organises community group visits to those ten pound plus exhibitions. The Victoria and Albert Museum staff are ace; nothing is too much trouble. The staff at other places have much to learn about welcoming seniors on freebies.

Trouble is much is advertised on Twitter and at Facebook.
Trouble is the engaged never get called back. Tick-sheets are posted away. Job done.

Why do they at Up Your Street keep on keeping on pushing their way into worlds they never knew existed because they worked for years and transport was expensive and that thing culture was “nothing to do with us”. Was it curiosity, being egged-on, loving that expected cuppa, getting some skills learning and it can all be done before they get the tea on? Those people are ENGAGED for a couple of hours in a day. On Friday the mosque engages them. On Sunday the church engages them. So much is forgettable.
Nuff said.

Where have all the flowers gone?

Was at Wanstead Tap tonight in Winchelsea Road Leytonstone. I wanted to meet Doreen Fletcher older artist of all east end buildings neglected and dead. I expected a stand-offish kinda woman but experienced a comic lady as warm as a tea-cosy. I expected an audience of the young, gifted and white but instead sat amongst about seventy very mature white adults. I think the only black person who ever went to the Wanstead Tap was Idris Elba but I jest: Benjamin Zephania was there last week. I overheard (as I write there’s a conversation on Radio 3 all about Epping Forest and Wanstead Park. Jabba jabba) a punter ask her partner whether the audience were Forest Gate people and she was chatting about the route to The Tap away from the dangerous roads by The Holly Tree. Well firstly the roads are safe for families, pimps, beggars and working folk. The pub is about to undergo a makeover, a social cleansing if you will.
And the audience was so not the Forest Gate people I know. I never ever see white grey-haired middle-class people on Woodgrange Road E7. Never. I see those gems in the opposite direction, in Wanstead. So yes what I expected was not seen.

At the end of the discourse concerning the painted buildings and Doreen’s reasons for picking her subjects, and after a few questions and answers all managed by the mysterious Gentle Author then we had an auction of soon to be rare prints of Doreen’s work. Well, I was in my element and in the room we reached the dizzy heights. I was on a roll when the Wanstead Tap owner, the actual auctioneer, outbid me and actually stopped any further bidding by gazumping then presenting his bought art work as a donation to Newham Bookshop.

The second print was going high too and someone beat me by a fiver. Not bothered. Next year’s flavour is dusting away the cobwebs from her canvases as I write. Art is a fickle thing.

Art is a money-making thing, a woman laying on a couch counting her golden tresses and wondering whether her eyes should meet on one side of her face or between her treasury vulva. All depends on her moon.

So that was a good evening after having had a tasteless lunch at Yum Yum’s in Stoke Newington. Done that. Tick off.

Doreen Fletcher will talk to the public again for three quid a pop on January 30th at The Nunnery Gallery in Bow. Place to be. ( I paid £8 for tonight’s thrill).

Bread, no really! and Circuses.

There is a road, an ancient road leading to the edge of Epping Forest in Leytonstone once Essex called Cann Hall Road. It’s a shabby long road heaped with Victorian rail workers two up two downs each with long back extensions. It’s heavily tenanted and has mostly pre-loved front gardens and walls. It is not a derelict road by any means. Between the schools’ open gate times it is a quiet back road. There are four caffs each struggling to keep on keeping on and never worth visiting if you’re local. One is a tea place recently changed in management but still owned and visited by the bakers who specialised in West Indian bread. That place sits on Cann Hall Road’s junction with old Selby Road. Its side wall is a dirty-looking painted-over eyesore which the bakers neglected. Along came the Waltham Forest guardians of community pleasure and decided to change the wall as a mark of respect really for the residents who have lived and shared worlds in what was and maybe still is the highest socially and educationally deprived part of the whole borough. There has been an influx lately of home-buyers from Hackney paying out half a million for sought-after quaintness then spending tons on re-fashioning the small interiors. They are a community amongst a community with all their vegan, cycle and sourdough ways. The chicken wing shops still thrive as all chicken shops do in poor areas.
Well, there’s the rub: The bakery cum caff is owned privately by a family. The wall is theirs. The family is absent physically and vocally. Why wouldn’t they be?
The wall is dark blue, patchy in places with the red and yellow dust of the 1891 bricks making the roughness rust-coloured. The borough council’s agents with a keen eye on the Borough Of Culture banner pervading their desks rather like Brexit taking over all of Parliament’s business have awarded forty thousand pounds through some other non-Council money-pot to an artist and his aide to uplift the afore-mentioned blue wall. Tiles will be bought in from Goadalming; blue tiles. Interspersed amateur blue tiles made by the public through ceramic tile-making workshops would juggle on the same wall. The tile decorations depict all the different breads in our communities.

Some people have been noisy and abrupt on Facebook saying how the design is inappropriate for a Victorian road and etc. A few voices dared to differ. For me, it’s unfair that a shop owned privately gets £40k spent on it. The owners have not said anything. The café remains almost empty every day. Meanwhile Up Your Street saw and grabbed an opportunity for seniors to learn a skill as in tile-making using raw clay and listening to tutors who guided them step by step. We were working in a wonderful venue under the railway arches. Not one student there cared about the politics going on. I was happy that we were taking part in a community venture having tried for years to get Up Your Street even uttered at other people’s parties. And pleased as Punch that women who were nervous about achieving a square tile made by hand with their own bread picture on it were successful.
Afterwards we had vegan soup and bread á la vegan. {We were in vegan country.} The artists were whisked away in a cab with tiles ready for the kiln.
This was a prime example of Up Your Street seniors being local and ready to be that audience, that ready-made group of seniors as visible go-getters and engaged in their community goings -on. We are mostly overlooked, engaged for five minutes then forgotten. On Facebook no-one is registering what seniors have done as part of this contentious project. We woz there.
No curiosity. No “Who are those people?” “How are they involved?” No “What shall we do for them?”

Some of those bread pictures are ace. There were swirls and feather-like patterns, shortbread triangles and shell-shapes. As old arms rolled the clay, the pictures became distorted and even more fluid. On firing the lines will be striking blue against a white background. Can you wait?

The forty thousand came through the council from some other funding for arts and boroughs of culture and regeneration. Bet the local chicken shop would like to say something.

More Is In me

The old George Mitchell School in Farmer Road Leyton London had as its motto “More Is In me” and I would say that not one student attending there in the nineties let alone the staff ever knew there were a motto. Well, this weekend I went from being jaded at workshops where sucking eggs was more illuminating to feeling rejuvenated at a local tile-making workshop this evening.
Phototherapy aka sticking photos in a journal and going through the angst of memories in front of an amateur therapist and her mates did not inspire me. A Black History Month council driven healthy eating jamboree where fifteen folk arrived to partake of smoothies and African hand-me-down recipes altered for an international market delivered by earnest mothers come business women touting for exposure and business left me disappointed. I was angry that for eleven years Up Your Street subscribers have attended healthy eating courses and one-offs and listened to the dangers of not eating from that healthy-eating platter and feigned interest at growing your own to stave off Diabetes Type 11 . Stave off? Starve off? Today a couple of African ingredients and veggies were added to the mix because it’s October. We were still at a networking party to showcase individual wannabees in that great Tory do it for yourself challenge as austerity brings out the self-employed in us. Up Your Street’s The Pamper Shop was well before its time but borne of the join-in spirit of London 2012. Now everyone’s on the same yoga mat.

A good spirit was exhaled by the sole organiser/Mistress of Ceremony who drove energy and order into the marketplace.
The joy was in meeting up with ten others from Up Your Street who never de-robed from their winter coats but managed to carry along with their scarves and shopping bags paper boats full of avocado cake and fried posh bread, doughballs and apple fritters.

I witnessed bad manners. Women grappled with others to get a sweet like Roses were going out of fashion. A councillor was interrupted in her preachy flow by a woman arguing that without a garden, man, you can’t grow veg. True that. The only white woman there actually initiated the dance when the Congolese trio’s drum major invited us to dance and caused a flurry of gasps as years of stereotyping jaw-dropped to the floor and “White Men Can’t Jump” sailed by on the flaps of an Ethiopian flag.
A woman full of herself dressed in her Shalwar Kameez was deemed to be an expert on every Asian infused dish. Good job Uzman wasn’t brought to the stage as she never ever cooks and wouldn’t be able to tell her nan ingredients from her chapatti ones. And no, fish ‘n’ chips isn’t what white English women slave over in their kitchen. Stereotypes are offensive and ignoring men in the kitchen is not going away when only mothers are promoted as lunch-box fillers.
We have not moved on, people. We are still back in the day, back in 2012 when every nation in London’s developing and changing east was recognised and embraced, given platforms to outdo each other and then side-lined to curl back into their private lives for eleven months of the year.
We left all of that and ate sugary biscuits and drank milky coffee,

Back into the real world of penny-pinching and sticking to what we always do, some of us joined others at Canons Farm Kitchen. Now, here’s a story to make your hair curl. Eat your crusts. Canons Farm Kitchen is the recent name for what was Butler’s Bakery in Cann Hall Road Leytonstone. When I first saw it from the bus two years ago, I thought it was an artisan bakers in my head full of gentrification spawning into parts that others beards never reach. I investigated further and found that it was a West Indian baker’s shop with steam spouting from a vent through a huge scummy blue wall. I bought some hard-dough bread and resented paying more than £1.50 for the loaf. Things happened from then on like Ladies Who Jerky spending an evening there and RAGWORKS being invited to hang art-work. Managers and chefs changed hands. I also followed an outfit online whose writers described the blue wall of Canons, also called at one point Chef’s Corner, as an eye-sore and I also knew that the wall was private property. It belonged and belongs to a family business.

Imagine the neighbourhood’s shock to know that the Council is forking out £40000 to make that wall pretty.
Casting aside prejudice and principles, we went to the inaugural tile-making workshop to be part of the movement of commoners, preferably local ones, to make tiles decorated with outlines of types of bread like hard-dough! which will be mounted over the flaking blue distemper in Selby Road to create something for the future, a marker proving ! that the community represents migration and tolerance and all things fair and that the courts are on the level and that the ladder of justice has no top and no bottom.

It was fantastic. It was in a glittery space with 1960s soul playing softly on the radio behind the aspidistra, Sue created a Mauritian bread, Sara moulded a croissant with striking Henry Moore shapes. Two sisters honoured their Scots ma by revering her traditional island bakery produce. Some did chapatti and one a paninni. Blue and white are the colours and pride was our end-product.
Twas good. More is in me.
Some of we seniors continue rolling the clay in November. We are the community.
Spoiler alert, just hope the council finds money for the scaffolding or those fired tiles will be going nowhere.

Too shy to nod

We are halfway through Black History Month, some say a kind of dinosaur, a relic and then, certainly and proved, uninteresting to many. Borough Councils who never cared for it are solidly righteous now as red and yellow Borough Councils this year planned to ignore it or spread it out a bit and call it Month of Diversity. There was on Politics Sunday last week a nod to it by bringing around the table inarticulate guests who encompassed nursing and seventy years of the NHS as reasons to be vehement and to raise the black, gold and green flag. BBC Radio 3 did its annual blast of Gershwin’s biography. Other radio shows shakily existing because of funding and borough raised eyebrows were unable to influence deck-mixes with smatterings of massive collections of Black singers and musicians. And no, there was no adulation throughout the year either. What missed opportunities.
It looks like you have to be brave to join in the sparse but deep offerings this year under the Black History umbrella. Eventbrite UK is crowded with images of black entrepeneurs under its events listing “Black History” or” Africa” and Croydon is dominating the scene. Newham is exploring the whys and wherefores of why we do do Black History Month. Up Your Street Caucasian subscribers were worried that they may be too obvious as out of place at Windrush tea parties. Three Indian Jews were not allowed entry until vacant seats were found when other non-ticketed women of colour were allowed through to the buffet. Yes, I obviously made a complaint but the apology was worthless. Black History is for all.
An exhibition at the Darnley Gallery works on the premise that schools do not introduce black women achievers ever. Not so. The Jenny Hammond Primary School was on the case and always is and I would say that schools in many London Boroughs are doing it for their students. And have done. There is a long way to go and that is perhaps why I am vexed that Black History Month is off the calendar as decided by young things in assembly halls and on the beat with officers of the law, all ticking off “reached out to the community” on their mission lists.
And so I was intrigued when the advert for Forest Gate Art Group had the word “diversity” slipped deliciously into the banner headline. Was that a nod to Black History Month when the group’s art works were leaving white Wanstead estate agents’ windows to hang in The Gate, Forest Gate’s flagship community events and library space in Woodgrange Road? Well, I had to see for myself as I was not convinced that Forest Gate Art Group’s stretches of the imagination would include disability and queerness as diverse just yet. Did it all mean that the artists were diverse in ethnicity, that the works were all in homage to Jah, that all the paintings showed some form of appropriation? I slid into the gallery area where pupils were chasing around and enjoying a cultural hub or so we are told. I searched for diversity quite prepared to ignore the blossom trees and the bowls of fruit. Ah, not for sale were some African faces. When I say some I mean three or four. Fine and then some excellent work but hardly diverse in content. I expected full-on black art with colour shouting out at me to be seen and noted, to smash the walls with images not seen in posher galleries. I wanted to know what the instructor’s brief was to encourage what transpired as an almost silent nod to BHM, that shy nod, that hope for a difference. It takes years of being and looking, and absorbing other communities to reflect anything extra in one’s art work. Ask ole Gershwin. He lived in South Carolina singing those Negro-Spirituals.

So as long as it takes ages to reflect all our communities in the London I know then we need a firm explosion of Black arts and culture merging and otherwise in at least one month of the year. We have to address other cultures as visible and as being experienced and step out of our habitual art where we copy others before us. To abolish Black History Month and to lessen it as an area of impact by calling the replacement a celebration of diversity we are doing no favours to all our school-children and to our way forward. Who decided what we celebrate?

Cynthia the snake, in a playground, in a community school, in a time capsule, in old Leytonstone.

Loved it; loved every minute of the Buxton School Festival. I’d followed the history of Tom Hood School, the building of Buxton, the demolition of the old school, (in that order) and fallen in love with the name Cobbold. And then I went and bought one of his houses, outside WC an’ all. On Buxton’s site, the first thing I noticed was the space and that every gateway and nook was covered by staff in security uniforms of lilac tabards or mauve. And who doesn’t love the smell of cooking food at a fair? No vegans here.
The playgrounds were measured out into zones with the family zone cut off in a secluded part of the school’s grounds. It was likely the nursery playground. Sandra’s sewing stall and Gayna’s Pantry of chutnies made from the produce of her allotment were allocated stalls there. Bit weird as kiddies don’t have that spending power.
Rushing around were the school’s volunteer members. They were students with an air of responsibility and the ability to be customer-aware. I was confident in their manner and their training. Well done. Also walking around alone was Sally Littlejohn, the lady Mayor resplendent in her heavy chain of democratic power.
Every member of staff was alert and helpful even to the end when gates were locked and a way of escape looked increasingly difficult.

Children joined in Karate moves given by the Karate school under the Thorpe railway arches, and carried on to do mask-made with felts and glitter. It was very good and then by the construction tubs along came the Suntrap team with snakes, giant snails, centipedes, a beetle and a lizard. Children were made heroes for wrapping Cynthia the snake around their necks. What fun.
Spicy chicken and rice £6.Bit steep. Steeper were ice cream cornets at £2. Steep for those used to Tesco ice cream deliveries and we are.
Best of all was the community spirit. It was just joy. Here was a brand new spanking school, an all-through the ages school, desperate to be the community one and in front of the smaller but no more intimate Jenny Hammond Primary School. Things have to be proven. Buxton has a beautiful history, that of the most popular Tom Hood School. And a loyal following of Alma Mater in the plural.

The community outreach staff led by the militaristic Molly, aka one senior teacher, worked hard to get the Festival off the ground. Their success was evident and I as a community person applaud that achievement.

Buxton was Tom Hood was Cobbold. Cobbold was old John Chevallier Cobbold.He was an MP and a landowner, a brewer in Ipswich, a railway addict and a soundslike Richard Branson who was as wealthy as sin and had built the two ups two downs along the Lanes off Dames Road; near the new railways, see. Love that geezer.