Hello from myself and the rest of the Space Makers team — and thank you for the wel­come we’ve already had from people in West Nor­wood. We look for­ward to meet­ing many more of you over the next few months and cre­at­ing some­thing excit­ing togeth­er.

For now, I wanted to tell you a bit about where Space Makers came from and how we found ourselves in West Nor­wood.

Space Makers star­ted as a monthly meetup I was organ­ising in Lon­don in early 2009 for any­one inter­ested in rethink­ing the spaces where we live, work and play. Before mov­ing to Lon­don, I’d been a local radio journ­al­ist and a com­munity act­iv­ist in Shef­field, in the middle of the Cul­tur­al Indus­tries Quarter — an area of the city which grew out of artists and musi­cians tak­ing over ex-indus­tri­al build­ings. Those exper­i­ences inspired me with the pos­sib­il­it­ies when people come togeth­er with a desire to make things hap­pen and a will­ing­ness to sub­sti­tute ima­gin­a­tion for money.

After a few years in Lon­don, it seemed like there was a pat­tern emer­ging of new ways of using space — co-work­ing offices where freel­an­cers and star­tups huddled for warmth, artists and theatre pro­jects tak­ing over ware­houses or unused car­parks, people organ­ising gigs or under­ground res­taur­ants in their front rooms. The old bound­ar­ies between the home, the work­place and the “third place” (the pub or cof­fee shop) seemed to be break­ing down — and as the reces­sion cre­ated hard times and empty shops on the high street, maybe it was also open­ing up pos­sib­il­it­ies for other, more soci­able ways of mak­ing these unused spaces work.

All sorts of people star­ted com­ing to our Space Makers meetups — artists, act­iv­ists, archi­tects, policy-makers, squat­ters — and shar­ing ideas about how to make spaces in which people want to spend time. When we put up a web­site, the Space Makers Net­work, hun­dreds of people around the coun­try got involved in using it to share inform­a­tion, ask ques­tions and tell each other about their pro­jects. Then we star­ted get­ting approaches from local coun­cils and prop­erty own­ers — and we cre­ated Space Makers Agency so we could work with them on hands-on pro­jects.

Our first big pro­ject was at Brixton Village indoor market. If we’d known how big and com­plex it would be, I’m not sure we’d have had the cour­age! But out of all the chaos and the chal­lenges of work­ing with a big com­mer­cial land­lord and in a situ­ation with a com­plex and dif­fi­cult recent his­tory, some­thing spe­cial happened. Hun­dreds of people got involved in cre­at­ing pop-up spaces, new local busi­nesses and a rolling fest­iv­al of week­end events that meant there was always some­thing sur­pris­ing going on when you vis­ited the mar­ket — and thou­sands of new vis­it­ors came to be part of it.

The Brix­ton pro­ject was fun­ded by the market’s own­ers, but it wouldn’t have happened without Lam­beth coun­cil, who first intro­duced us to the own­ers and worked closely with us through­out the year that we were there. Lam­beth were keen to bring a sim­il­ar energy to other town centres around the bor­ough, while recog­nising the dif­fer­ent his­tor­ies and con­texts from one area to anoth­er — and when they asked for pro­pos­als for high street pro­jects, we sub­mit­ted an idea for West Nor­wood.

Ini­tially, the coun­cil were keen for us to focus on empty shops, in the same way we had in Brix­ton — but it soon became clear that the com­plex mix­ture of own­er­ship of West Norwood’s empty shops presen­ted a more dif­fi­cult situ­ation than Brix­ton, where we were deal­ing with a single land­lord respons­ible for the whole of Mar­ket Row and Gran­ville Arcade.

Instead, we came back with an idea based on a pro­ject we had worked on with RIBA Lon­don, to make bet­ter use of the city’s “forgotten spaces”. We iden­ti­fied a series of sites around Nor­wood Road and Knights Hill which could be brought into use one day a month to cre­ate a new open air street mar­ket — with a mix­ture of mar­ket­place hubs, draw­ing people around the town centre, com­bined with pop-up per­form­ances and events in shops and ven­ues around the route.

That was the start­ing point for the West Nor­wood Feast. We’re con­vinced there’s the oppor­tun­ity to do some­thing which brings life to the town centre and bene­fits exist­ing busi­nesses and the local com­munity.

To make that work, it needs to be long-term — and it needs to be done in col­lab­or­a­tion with as wide a range of people as pos­sible with­in the area. We’re not experts com­ing in to trans­form everything. We have learned some things about how to build energy and excite­ment around a pro­ject and make it hap­pen — but the real experts, the people who will lead this and make it a suc­cess, are the people who know West Nor­wood best.

This site is a step towards mak­ing the West Nor­wood Feast hap­pen — and a chance to cel­eb­rate the people and stor­ies of this part of south Lon­don.

So please join in, add your voice to the con­ver­sa­tions, tell us a bit about who you are, why West Nor­wood mat­ters to you and what you’d like to see hap­pen­ing here over the months ahead.

Help us spread the word and make this hap­pen!

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