Guided tour of the William Morris Gallery and discussion with local east London arts organisations (East London in Flux IV)

Session 3. Wednesday 18 June, 6pm-9pm

This post was contributed by Nick Edwards, an Architectural Educator and Co-founder of Fundamental Architectural Inclusion


Strawberry Thief printed textile designed by William Morris. (Identification from Linda Parry, William Morris Textiles, New York, Viking Press, 1983, p155)

After an informative guided tour of the William Morris Gallery we retired to the tea room for refreshments and some great conversations around a very loose topic: “What would William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement – with their commitment to social change via art, have made of the rapidly changing East London and its current wave of arts-led regeneration projects?”.

Group discussions covered East London’s rapid regeneration and how the arts and artists seem to be – perhaps rather unwittingly – part of the process of change. We talked about all sorts of issues and ideas, including the sudden new wave of Open Workshops in East London and how these seem to be funded by through regeneration such as the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund, London Legacy Development Corporation and sometimes even developers.

Black Horse Work Shop in Walthmanstow

Black Horse Work Shop in Walthmanstow

We also debated the long-term phenomenon of the gradual drift Eastwards of artists, often to run-down short-term studio spaces in ex-industrial areas and now out into much wider surrounding neighbourhoods. Grayson Perry rather succinctly captured this pioneering in his R4 Reith Lecture “If you think of artists, we’re like the shock troops of gentrification…“ going on to say that he thought developers should pay artists to do their work for them!

The participants, a broad range of local people and representatives from arts organisations and the Gallery, threw these issues around the houses and gallery so to speak, ending up with the scourge of house prices again which seems to be a recurring theme at our sessions! There was a bit of a sense that although regeneration and beautification of areas can be beneficial, it also pushes prices up and out of the reach of many people who live and work in East London and that this has a knock on effect on older children becoming independent and on the wider community as a whole. Some people also felt that some of the new creative spaces were far too expensive and not really aimed at local people.

Having drawn somewhat of a blank with these big issues and as to whether there is a present day William Morris we all tried hard to think of solutions and good examples of arts and regeneration projects that had somehow overcome these economic and top down sometimes prescriptive pressures. Were there any examples where the ideas had genuinely come from within the community?

A few of the participants, including Anna Mason and Ines Pina from the Gallery had been to the Mill and spoke very highly of its community-led ethos. Perhaps this type of model is the way forward? Unfortunately Mo Gallaccio from the Mill was unable to join us but we look forward to visiting and learning more about this model in the future. Another very effective grass-roots initiative is Up Your Street, which has the simple but ambitious goal of getting local people out to all the free events offered across the Olympic boroughs. We have Up Your Street to thank for steering many long-term East London residents to our East London in Flux events, where they have made invaluable contributions to our discussions and debates.

East London In Flux is a partnership between Fundamental Architectural Inclusion and Birkbeck.

Further events in the East London in Flux series will be taking place throughout the summer. Tickets are free but places are limited so if you are interested in attending please reserve you place here.

The following are links to some of the other projects we considered  during our discussion:


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