London’s inner city housing developments can be pretty grimy and unwelcoming, but here’s a new idea that could be picked up by locals to transform their areas.
This fortnight, Fiona Hawthorne, a Northern Irish artist who lives and works in London, has come together with residents and a housing association, to make the best of those grey, urban walls. Together they’ve been ramping up local creativity with her new community art installation, on the infamous Wornington Green Estate in Ladbroke Grove.
The unique and vibrant piece transforms what were grey walls, ramp and stairs into a celebration of the community and local history of North Kensington. The area has been given a mini-facelift, after its ramp leading into the estate, was turned into a local history art gallery of sorts.
This artwork has personal resonance for Fiona. Only a short walk from this instillation, Fiona set up her first home with her now husband Colin Salmon (best known for his work in various James Bond films as well as Arrow, 24 and Paul Abbott’s ‘No Offence”) with Kensington Housing Trust which is now part of Catalyst Housing.
The artwork has been created with funding from the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Housing and Regeneration Fund along with support from Catalyst Gateway.
Following Fiona Hawthorne’s very successful “Aspects of Carnival” mural installation on Portobello Road, Catalyst Housing commissioned Fiona to take on this new project. Fiona spent months engaging with people from the local area to find out their stories and what inspires them. Fiona gathered information by attending workshops, talking to people through Facebook and a special session with children at the local school.
Fiona told our London360 camera crew ‘’ “It has been such a pleasure to meet local residents, to hear views on life now and stories of the past, and to mix photos old and new of an area I know and love. I wanted colour and texture to enhance life force, objects to help us consider the beauty of the rich tapestry that makes this community, and to spark a narrative. Children and their families have used this ramp for many years and I have made the art with children in mind – I wanted to create something that could help inspire stories, the imagination and possibilities. Art helps us look again at what we see every day, and I am very pleased to have had the chance to have so much fun adapting a landscape and sharing my work in a public space’’.
Wornington Green is a key part of the eclectic community of North Kensington, contributing much to the unique heritage of London. The area is currently involved in an exciting regeneration programme and to celebrate this Catalyst decided to create a new commission and put art into a public space.
Sue Hannah, Area Manager at Catalyst Housing for Wornington Green added ‘’ the idea came about from a walk about with residents to look at environmental improvements on the estate, on Wornington Green Estate, and the ramp was identified as an area that needed a bit of a make-over and people wanted to do a community art project. What was great about it was that Fiona’s involved local people in the project, including lots of the residents living on the estate. It’s been absolutely fantastic, and people love it!. Our office is just up the road and every time we walk past it, people are looking at it and pointing at it. It’s become a real focal point for North Kensington, for Ladbroke Grove, and for Wornington Green too. Wornington Green is going through exciting changes and bringing more people to this area of the Royal Borough of Kensington Chelsea. Fiona has done a great job at capturing the history and community feel of North Kensington and I look forward to seeing the creativity it inspires in the local community.’
Fiona’s famous hubby Colin Salmon proudly explained ‘’ for me art is a perfect conduit for communication, therefore people can enjoy it and just look at the use of colour! Fiona has a skill, with a beautiful use of colour that lifts and galvanises me and the young children who are walking through at eye level, they’re in another world. This has been designed for the next generation to be lit up because we have to light up the next generation. Sometimes you can’t say it but you can draw it. If I was to leave you with a thought, it is the fact that it’s this. This is London. It’s the most incredible city in the world, the diversity, the tolerance, and the way in which we live in these small villages, and they are small villages and we have to celebrate them. We have to include each other and we have to look after our children, the art I hope just lifts it and makes it a bit more special because everybody deserve to live in something special’’
As a freelance illustrator Fiona serves a broad spectrum of both national and international clients. Known for her witty and delicate line-and-wash style, she’s often commissioned to draw live in situations that range from film shoots and jazz festivals to the Henley Regatta and the tearoom of Harrods. She’s even worked with President Obama!
Fiona told us how he became involved in ‘’Project Ramp’’. ‘’ This ramp was actually grey cement, and a bit of an eye-sore, I heard that there was a commission going, where the local residents who live in this estate, had actually said “we’d like some regeneration of the ramp, we’d like the ramp to be a celebration!” and they’d come up with the idea of an art commission. So, when I heard about it I had to get it! And luckily I got it!’’
She continued ‘’Over a 3 month period, I drew, and I had an adventure going into inventive drawing, and taking photographs and collaging them in. But a key part of it was to work with the local residents. So I met residents, we held meetings, I told people about it, and with technology the way it is nowadays, people could bring me old photographs, or things, things they liked, things they had, like clippings, and I could just photograph them on the spot and then drop them in digitally to my art work. So that’s what it’s all about, a project to celebrate the area and its local residents!’’
If you’re in the west London area do take a walk to the ramp and explore its many images. We noticed a lot of diversity in the mural. There’s a girl wearing a hijab, a variety of races and ages. Fiona nods ‘’Yes! It was very important. There’s a place for everyone in this area and it always has been. Lots of different groups have come here, the diversity has stayed and it has created carnival, amongst other great things in this area. But I think my opportunity in the art was just to challenge some of the perceptions, and make sure everyone was represented’’.
She continues ‘’It’s really important to have art, everywhere, council estates, the streets, everywhere. it sparks ideas, it makes people think of other possibilities. And I don’t think you have to understand art necessarily, you know, with my art it’s just how it is… I just want people to feel, to respond to it. I didn’t want to do anything that would in some way alienate people, but equally very conceptual art is great to see it and find out what the backstory is. So, I’m all for art in public spaces, and I think we need more of it in London!’’.
One local middle aged female resident, who seemed to be at first numb with tears, and then jubilant with elation told us ‘’ Some of the pictures, I haven’t even seen, I was in tears when I got here and our photo’s are right in the front. It’s like, just goose bumps, goose bumps, hair standing up, I was bawling! I don’t know where my daughter got them from, but there are a lot of memories here. There is one photo of my sister, she lived here and passed away when she was 46, so when I first saw that I was emotional, then there’s another picture of me with my brother who is currently very sick. It’s a lovely memory, just amazing. My parents must be looking down really proud I think’’.
The last word went to a sprightly 10 year old young girl who was skipping around and lives locally who gushed ‘’ by seeing this wall I’ve learnt the different stages of this area and how it has changed over the years. I think for the younger kids like ourselves, we like to look back at our ancestors. It’s just a really nice thought to be able to look on there and say “oh, this is what they used to wear, and these are the things they got up to, and we do the same sort of thing in this day and age, its so cool!’’