Creating a New Community in Brixton, South London
All images by B. Alter
Brixton market is an old meandering Caribbean food market; the stalls are bulging with exotic fruits, vegetables, fish, clothing and bargains; the reggae music is pounding away amongst the orderly chaos. Located in one corner of the 1930's arcade is an experiment in community development and green retail.
Called Brixton Village, a group of 20 empty stalls have been "rented" to local artists, activists and entrepreneurs with 3 months free start-up rent. The first wave includes vintage clothing stores, a photographer, cafes, baby clothing makers, artistic tee-shirts and a food store. It's a delightful enclave which is working to make links with the local community.
A group called Space Makers Agency has worked for months with the market's owners and the local council to create these new community-driven businesses and temporary creative projects.
It's a very special atmosphere, wandering amidst the lanes of the market which are bursting with energy, atmosphere and a true sense of community. The new merchants are all young, creative and both enthusiastic and very nervous about the venture. Since the first three months are rent-free, it is a time to test out their wares and try and reach out to the local community as well as the hipper crowd. Some have already left, others are doing well.
One who is having a wonderful time is the photographer, Carole Evans. For one week she has been taking photos of local people, or anyone who wanders in, and posting them on the walls of her small gallery space. By the end of the week a whole exhibition had been created. Sitters were given a free print in return for their time, and the whole series will be put on a website so that the exhibition can continue long after the residency ends.
There are several vintage clothing stores. One woman has come from Paris to set up shop. Another has plans to stay for the year, no matter what. HERD is a design studio with space for young entrepreneurs and some great tee-shirts. Sweet Tooth is a shop selling candies from penny treats to monster sized sweets, sugared cola cubes, healthier sweets without any sugar and sweets from around the world. The Little Shop of Lost Toys puts on puppet shows for children. Brixton Cornercopia is a corner store selling delicious locally made food and a project collecting food stories -- ingredients, recipes and people.
It's an important social experiment. Space Makers Agency are the organizers. They have been working with the local communities, property owners, local authorities, policy-makers and others to create new ways of "of thinking about the spaces in which we live, work and play. Our approach is to start with what is already there: the stories of a place and the people who live there. Then our role is as a catalyst, bringing out the possibilities which were already present in a situation and making connections which might not have been obvious."
We visited on a cold mid-week day and the lanes were pretty empty. But on the weekend there are lots of activities and events taking place to draw in new shoppers and interested people. Whether the businesses can make a go of it, by integrating with the existing community and opening new doors of communication, remains to be seen.