Regeneration: the artists’ view

By Marco Cillario - Wed 31 May 2017, 5:06 pm

What is the relationship between art and regeneration? Do artists play a role in the redevelopment of an area – or should they? Marco Cillario asks five people involved with Barking and Dagenham’s cultural scene for their views on the matter


Arts organisation Create London has transformed an 18th century farmhouse on the Becontree estate into a community space. Every three months, two artists are hosted at The White House to develop projects engaging the local community. Long-time Barking and Dagenham resident and single mother Christina Ford is one of them and is using art to support others who find themselves in her situation.

Tell me about the project you are working on at the moment.

Barking and Dagenham has the highest percentage of lone parent households in England and Wales and I am offering them drop-in sessions during the day and in the evenings. 

We are running different workshops for three months, as well as arts and crafts sessions. 

I’ll also be working on producing a piece of documentary theatre. 

Unfortunately, some voices get lost, and if lone parents’ voices were heard today we would not be facing the challenges and stigma that we do. I think if people listened we would be better understood. 

As an artist, what can you do to support a community affected by regeneration? 

Artists can identify needs and work and engage with their community. 

I know one of the biggest worries within regeneration is that people are going to be left behind. 

Change is difficult for everyone. Our role is about helping local people keep up with it, by providing a space where voices get heard and become part of that process. 

Why is art the right way to do that? 

Art is a platform to be involved in a community, be a part of something and meet other people. 

I think, in such a diverse borough as Barking and Dagenham, this is very important: art is a good way to build bridges. 

The council has done an amazing job in supporting arts and artists based within the borough. 

I know artists I went to university with at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in Swiss Cottage: a lot of their work used to be focused around that area, however a lot of them are now trying to come to Barking and Dagenham, because we are really rich in art.


Charity Bow Arts Trust has set up a venture to provide 500sq m of affordable artists’ workspace on the ground floor of IceHouse Court. Painters, sculptors, shoemakers, design and craft makers, textile and fashion artists have taken up space at the venue. 

Michael, how do you think supporting artists can benefit an area? 

Artists are and should be part of the community in which they are based, not separate from it or simply ‘passing through’. 

If they are provided with affordable workspace, with the chance to develop their practice and with income opportunities to support this, artists are able to spend more time in the area they are working in, and become much more engaged locally. 

Why should local authorities and developers take into account artistic space when making plans for the redevelopment of an area? 

London prides itself on being a cultural capital, and that requires space for artists to make work – research and development as well as production and display. For this to be sustainable, to avoid London simply becoming a city of museums, but to retain its critical mass of creative activity, it is vital that affordable workspace is retained. 

The benefit that well-managed artistic activity coming out of these spaces brings to an area, and to a developer, in helping make it a more interesting place to live, is obviously very important too. 


Verity-Jane Keefe is a visual artist with a fine arts background who has worked in Barking and Dagenham for more than 10 years, exploring the relationship between people and places, and is still active and involved in a number of projects.

What is the role of regeneration in your work?

My work looks at how people ‘live’ regeneration, what it is like on the ground.

What does regeneration really mean? What I have learned through my work is that the word has a much more complex meaning than we normally assume: it affects everyone, from council officers to residents and developers. It represents social change.

When estates and tower blocks are demolished, it is not just old buildings that go: it is also the people who go, and that could change the community.

Can you give me an example of this?

In 2013, I was commissioned by Barking and Dagenham Council to produce work about the redevelopment of Goresbrook Village, now known as Castle Green Place, which saw developer Countryside replace three tower blocks with 149 new homes.

My work was called ‘Legoland’: the name refers to the fact that local people used to say the towers looked as if they were made of Lego.

The filming took 18 months, showing the estate before, during and after the redevelopment. We also included interviews with residents, housing officers, decanting officers and shot footage of the demolition and the reconstruction of the site.

When the work was finished, the new residents had already moved in. 

The screening, which happened between the remaining construction site and new homes in February 2015, saw people who used to live there, new residents, councillors and developers, all coming together in the same place for the same event, sharing their experience and showcasing their work. 

That is what I mean when I talk of the role of the artist within regeneration: what it is, could be and should be.


Launched in August 2012, Creative Barking and Dagenham (CBD) is one of England’s 21 Arts Council England-funded Creative People and Places (CPP) projects, aimed at getting people who are based in areas of low engagement more involved in the arts.

Lindsey, what has been the impact of the initiative on the borough so far?

Throughout phase one of the project, 850 different creative events have taken place, 30 venues across the borough have hosted our activities, 80 community groups have been involved in the project, and more than 250 artists and arts organisations have worked with us.

More than 150 residents have signed up as cultural connectors, to vote on the types of projects they would like to see and be involved with commissioning every artist we have worked with.

Also, 1,765 volunteers have helped us create great arts experiences. 

We have also established three new festivals: Dagfest, Thamesfest at Barking Riverside (pictured below) and a new winter light festival, Glow, which welcomed more than 2,000 visitors in November 2016.

Due to the success of the first phase, CBD has been awarded a further three years of funding until 2019.

What is the role of artists in an area which is undergoing major and rapid change such as Barking and Dagenham? 

Artists can play a critical role in developing community relationships and in celebrating the rich history of an area. 

They have the capacity to work in a deep, meaningful way with community groups that are facing change, to facilitate individual expression, and enrich social and cultural development that occurs within their communities. 


Studio 3 Arts is one of the UK’s leading social engagement practices and was founded 30 years ago by a group of young female students at Barking College, disappointed at the lack of opportunities for young local people to be involved in the arts.

Liza, what is the idea behind your organisation?

We have two main purposes: to reduce the barriers to arts participation and to support people to use art to make sense of the world.

How is this done?

Most of our projects involve more than one art form and we are specialised in choosing the right one to work with the appropriate client group.

For example, we have recently started work on the ‘Weaving the Gascoigne’ project: we were commissioned by East Thames Group in September 2016 to develop the public arts strategy for the new scheme at the Gascoigne estate, which is now going to be called Weavers Quarter.

The Weavers Quarter scheme will see 1,575 homes, a community centre and a public square built. What is in there for an arts organisation?

We have assembled a steering group of 12 local people who are interested in the role of public art in a regeneration context and they are working closely with us to carry out research and public consultation events to come up with ideas on the kind of public art initiatives which would work well within the new estate. In March 2017, we will send the strategy over to East Thames, so they can integrate works of art into the development and design. 

A particular emphasis will be on the role creative spaces and interesting landscaping can play in creating an idea of neighbourhood in what will be a really new community of people – there is likely to be a lot of newcomers in this development.

Why do you think art is the right way to help build up a new community?

Art can humanise a process and trigger conversations in ways that other forms of community engagement just cannot. 

What we are really clear about at Studio 3 Arts is that art doesn’t require a hierarchy or any kind of academic prerequisite to be able to take part in it.

Our work is about using creativity and comfortable spaces to encourage people to talk. Ultimately, it is about building relationships, and that’s what I think art can do within regeneration. 



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