Tuesday 18th March 1998
34 Martello Street
"..regardless of what the council
ever thought it was obvious to all of us that 'the area' had its own
momentum. And it was a momentum that needed to be carried forward."
Where were you born and when?
Christchurch in New Zealand in 1953 Which art school did you attend
University of Canterbury, School of Fine Art 1971 to 1976
When did you first move to the east end of london?
Why did you move there?
Because Zoe had a room that she wanted to let.
Were you helped by an organization?
Zoe had an Acme house, so I wasn't at that stage directly but it was
an Acme house at 18 Westgate Street E8.
How did you fit in?
I dont think I had a problem really because I was relatively new to
the country, so me fitting in anywhere wasn't really place specific,
although I was completely horrified by Mare Street the first time
that I saw it. That was though before I moved over here, I had gone
to Martello street studios, had a look around and went out on to Mare
Street and thought I was in a third world country somewhere rather
than just in the East End. It was something that I didn't quite expect,
it never got better but I got used to it. Did you feel part of an
Yes, because everyone else in the same terrace was involved in the
arts, the whole of Beck Road was full of artists and the studios were
Can you remember events that led up to you living
Basically it was through people that I knew
Did you exhibit work in the east end and if
I did take over the property on the other end of the terrace, did
it up and had a workshop there and started designing furniture, but
I didn't make any fine art work.
Why do you think so many artists collected in
the area between these years?
I dont really have any experience of the 70's, I would assume that
it was the availability of cheap accommodation.
Your own work has changed from Fine Art to woodwork,
yet you still call it sculpture? How could you say this change happened
Going through the art school system in New Zealand was'nt different
to the regime that was in London, the art schools at the end of the
60's had gone away from the more academic life drawing type of regime
to one that was in my case more BauHausy. Once I specialized in sculpture
I supposed it was a reasonably strict regime and the set text was
structuralist orientated. I did an honours year at the end and decided
that I suppose in a way it was very stressful working like that, I
put a lot of self-criticism into the work that I was doing and I think
with hindsight I realised that the work i was making was not going
to make the top category in terms of making art, so I decided that
I wanted to go out and explore other avenues. So, even though I did
a lot of art related things in the late 70's I wasn't concerned with
following a career in fine art although I was concerned with taking
what I had learned, particularly conceptual art, art language and
all of the things that were influencing what was going on.
How would you describe what you are doing now?
I mainly work as a building contractor and we do minimalist schemes/refurbishments
for architects mainly who teach architects.
What do you think happened during these years?
Well, this area was always down since the second world war for regeneration.
From the mid 70,s the council were keen on compulsory purchasing all
substantial properties and securing them to build an industrial development
within the area. In effect what that meant is that they did it very
slowly and at the same time they actually put the rates up and not
only did they get rid of the residents in the area but they got rid
of the existing businesses in the area and the whole area itself became
a site for travellers, who continually flighted and lived an unsanitary
lifestyle and drove more businesses out and there was just this mass
dereliction. It was rife for short life housing but the council were
not very keen to give it out for short life housing, I think they
perceived that unless it went to the right housing associations they
would yet again have property that they had problems reclaiming. Can
you describe your movements through properties in the area? 1981 to
1983 I was in Westgate Street, which was demolished. that however
was not part of the same industrial area, those properties were earmarked
for demolition to provide a car park for the local taxi business.Although
it wasn't Acme's policy to re-house all the people in Westgate Street
were re-housed and I moved to 36 Martello Street, Zoe who had been
the Acme tenant at Westgate Street didn't so I went directly to Acme
and put a case forward for taking an Acme House and managed to secure
36 for myself.Gail and Chrissie the ceramicists from westgate Street
moved into the basement of 36, they consequently moved out and secured
number 30 Martello Street as a studio. Jane Clark was supposed to
move into the other side of London Lane but couldn't move in because
it was squatted, it has now since been demolished and a housing association
have built there.
Can you say why you decided to stay in the East
By that time I had a circle of friends and I found it very convenient
to live in East London in terms of moving around. Most of my work
was peripatetic so transport wise I had my own vehicle so it was very
easy to get to places. I enjoyed London Fields and there were great
What do you think is different now for young
artists, if you were arriving in the East End as opposed to 1981?
Well, the processes that started to happen even in the 80's, that
the availability of cheaper accommodation has dried up now in Hackney.
If you look at where Acme is having to find premises it has meant
that they had to move further East into Newham and some parts of Tower
Hamlets.property availability and prices have made people move further
Do you think that artists moving into an area
contributes towards the 'gentrification'?
Well yes that is a classic understanding of the way things happen.
I remember speaking to people when I first came over here and the
attitude was that the original artists were the sod busters, breaking
new ground and yes certainly I do think that artists do give an air
of interest, credibility Im not sure of the word, to an area.There
are other sectors of the community also looking for cheap accommodation
such as students.
Was the local council helpful and do you have
a particular anecdote relating to your time in Hackney?
As far as the properties went numbers 30 to 38 Martello Street, which
were a small row of terraces were in 1985/86 due for demolition, as
was Ellingfort Road. There were a number of schemes although this
has been treated slightly differently, in a way because it is geographically
separate because of the railway line. the point when I heard about
this I was living in 36 Martello Street I thought it was rather strange
that they wanted to pull down what was quite an interesting facade
to London Fields (and also my home!) to build a six foot wall giving
better access to the railway arch.I had never really had any experience
with politics in Hackney up to that point but I went to the Town Hall
to a general council meeting and put my hand up at the end when they
asked for any other business and said 'look they are pulling these
houses down and I dont think its a good idea because there is a community
that is living there'. I also said that if everything else goes it
at least makes a safe passage way through London Fields North and
South, also houses are the right backdrop for a public space.Andrew
Puddephat was the leader of the council at that time and he actually
agreed and said yes there is actually a community and also there is
a community in Beck Road that he knew of and that the officers should
take a look at what was actually happening in Martello Street. So,
I got involved in trying to protect the houses, I got in touch with
an architectural organization and we got an architect on board. We
did a feasibility study on what it would cost to refurbish the houses,
I spent a year going to meetings at The Mare Street Industrial Improvement
Area Offices at the end of London Lane.The council did a feasibility
study and decided it was going to cost far to much to re-furbish the
houses, they eventually came up with a scheme to build live and work
units on the site, his was in 1986, with a similar footprint and facade
to the existing buildings. And then they did nothing, they had no
money, and so the houses have remained. They had spent £450,000 doing
all the rooves and parapets on Mentmore Terrace around the corner,
securing the buildings with the idea that they would rent them as
small workshops, which wasn't a bad idea. But then they walked away
from them because the area had been so run down and the travellers
eventually picked off the buildings one by one and sold the bricks.
The council just let it happen.Now they have phase one of the new
development that has been built there. There had been plans of various
types in the 1980's and through to the 90's for the area. It was 1993
that the current plan for the regeneration of the area happened.
Was this part of the Renewal Partnership?
Yes they were involved. There was a local activist, now a Hackney
Councillor, called Peter Snell who had taken it upon himself to read
the Unitary Development plan for Hackney, to see if there was anything
to get his teeth into I think. He discovered that to his mind there
was something going wrong with the idea of the development of The
Mare Street Industrial Improvement Area and he called a meeting with
the council to protest against what they wanted to do initially which
was to build a straight industrial development, with warehousing use.The
councils idea all along the line was a blue collar development, they
didn't like the idea of gentrification and they saw that as the other
option.Anything that was not B1 or C1 workshop usage would not fit
into their plans, they had to protect the community base as they perceived
it and provide employment. They were out of touch with the community
actually living in the area? Without a doubt, you cannot put together
a unitary development plan without consultation, I was not aware of
any specific consultation relating to this area that came through
the door , (I had moved into my workshop at 34 then).
What is the history of the Renewal Partnership?
There is three years of history. I went to the inaugural meeting where
Hackney Council was represented , the community was represented, there
was a group of architects working with us at that stage to formulate
a plan for the area. This was Cazenove architects. From that inaugural
meeting there was a concerted community opposition to what the council
wanted to do, because we believed that all the planning theories suggested
that what they wanted was not the right solution for this area, given
that there was an arts infrastructure in the area we were extremely
keen to get a development of what we originally started calling 'village'
an urban village for cultural industry.this would have been a right
development for this particular site. So, there were three documents
that were published over the next three years: The first one which
was The London Fields Renewal Partnership The Art of Hackney which
was our groups initial response to what the council wanted to do.
This outlines sites within the area where there was cultural tourism,
what the council wanted to do, what our plan was at that stage.This
got a very negative response from Hackney council.We still felt that
we had the right approach to what was going on. Cazenove architects
co-operative was still very keen, they were drawing up different plan
and we were talking about activities for buildings. What we wanted
were live and work buildings for the cultural industries.They received
a £750 grant to do yet another feasibility study from RIBA and they
produced a second document that fleshed out what was covered in the
first. The council at that time had put in a planning submission to
build a warehousing type development and I think we had six hundred
odd signatures of protest against this and a huge turn out and presence
at the Town Hall for the planning enquiry. This is 1994. /95. It was
chaired by Brian Sedgemore the MP as it was going to be a contentious
meeting.It was obvious that their plan would be rejected and they
would have to go back with their developers and think about something
else. We were still determined though to put pressure onto get a development
that we wanted. In the end they were forced into building some live
and work units because the arguments were sufficient to make people
on the streets stand up. we approached the PeaBody trust who were
very keen to do live and work buildings.
Was the idea to replace the buildings or to renovate the buildings?
By that stage one of the sites that they have recently done a development
on was vacant, there was a large industrial building there called
Mentmore Industries which used to employ disabled people in the electronics
industry, but they lost their grant. It was a central government grant
but the council wouldn't replace it.There was a little row of terraced
houses and the rest was vacant ground. Peabody commissioned independent
research into the viability of live and work units. They interviewed
lots of people and a very positive report went back to Peabody. They
were then warned off by Hackney Council, who basically said if you
get involved with these people then your Hackney Now Plans are scuppered.(that
was social housing in the rest of the borough). We were definitely
irritating the council. There was a lot of community dissatisfaction
with what was happening and a lot of support for the LOndon Fields
Renewal Partnership and what they wanted to do. The council became
more and more intransigent and certainly didnt want to take any risks.
We thought we had a deal with one of their councillors who was head
of environmental services at the time his name was Phillip Pearson.
we wanted to put our own bid in for european regional Grant funding
which the whole project hinged on really both for the council and
everyone else. we had no money of our own but there were ways to match
money and so on.We were told at the time that the council would notionally
say that we would be considered as a development partner which in
fact did not happen. We had spent quite a bit of time producing a
third document. Peter Snell put that together. Huge amounts of effort
went into it. Phillip Pearsons word was not as good as it should have
been so after all that effort The Government Office for London who
appraises bids for RDF money said that the Council were not going
to accept us as any form of partner and therefore they could not log
our bid for any money.We had seen the councils bid and we definitely
had a better document. This was yet another blow! the council eventually
came back with revised plans for live and work buildings and we had
managed to influence them on the scale of the buildings, we didnt
want anything big, we wanted them small. So they came up with unit
sizes to suit single people up to small organistions. There were lots
of issues in between but we eventually got to the point where they
built the buildings. The developers Greater London Enterprises who
we had numerous meetings with said that it was the highest spec scheme
that they had ever built. They were being extremely conservative.
These are the live work units that front on to London Lane, they were
'sold' to Hackney Council as live work units but that is not what
was originally delivered.
What do you mean the units were sold to the council?
£1000,000 came from the European Regeneration fund £750,000
was put in by Hackney Council (but this was mostly ownership of the
land). £750,000 came from GLE themselves. They are brick clad buildings
with metal grids that are quite high spec but they were not delivered
as the mezannine floor/work as in there were no services on the mezzanine
area. This was niggling because planning was allowed for residential
use. People do live there now though. Coming to the conclusion of
the construction works a number of labour councilors walked away from
the Labour Party in 1996/7 to form New Labour which meant that the
council was a hung council.This fact in conjunction with Peter Snell
being elected on to the Council allowed for a degree more influence.
It was at this point that the Manchester group got involved. A contentious
issue was that there were a number of houses in Ellingfort Road and
London Lane that were squatted. There were 2 houses in London Lane
where people had lived for over 12years and therefore had squatters
rights. The Council had to finish their development as had been submitted
for planning otherwise they would jeapordise their European grant
of £1000,000. The group from Manchester were involved as consultants
to influence a successful outcome/decision.Issues like renting and/or
selling, target groups for the properties were to be resolved.They
also had to negotiate how the 2nd phase could be built without disenfranchising
the community that was already there. There is a new group formed
called London Fields Solutions and they have resolved the issues.The
group is made up of short life housing tenants, students who were
squatters and stayed on. They have a small amount of funding and they
have a years grace to raise £15,000 each to buy their own properties.
the new plan saved the council money as where they were going to demolish
all the properties they can now fulfill the outputs in a smaller footprint
leaving the houses standing. what about where you are here in Martello
Street? Martello Street has been taken out of the equation since it
fronts London Fields. It was a suggestion that I originally made in
1985/86. In 1996/97 they re-drew the line which allowed them to sell
three properties to a housing association (for £15,000 each and they
had been compulsory purchased!) Number 36 where I used to live has
been sold to a housing association it is a 3 story small unit and
cost £100,000 to re-develop. There is a question over what is happening
to the rest. Number 32 was never compulsory purchased. This property
is Number 34 and the council has owned it since 1986. There have been
a succession of people living here and I have used it as a workshop
Presumably the Council can sell it?
It is uncertain because it was a compulsory purchase....so, I am still
here. Last thing I heard was that there would be a re-furbishment
programme and they would house 'at risk' people, which is bizarre
because this area is a 'no go area' after dark. More recently Free
Form the local community arts organization have purchased the property
at the end of the street by the scaffolding yard with a plan to turn
it into an arts resource.Also it is rumoured that the Chelsea Arts
Club has bought the building on the other side of the walkway with
a view to open an arts club. So, regardless of what the council ever
thought it was obvious to all of us that 'the area' had its own momentum.
And it was a momentum that needed to be carried forward. In this immediate
vicinity you have: - 3 huge Space Studio buildings - Momart who have
won the Queens award for moving art. - Flowers East Gallery and many
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