Following on from the success of our project at Brixton Village, Lambeth council asked us to look at one of the borough’s lesser-known town centres with a view to bringing life back to its high street.
After an initial exploration phase with local residents, businesses and community groups, we proposed a community-led street market — drawing on our previous work with RIBA London to identify “forgotten spaces” around the high street and bring them back to life.
The initial local response was cautious: “We can see why it would work in Brixton, but nothing ever happens round here.” But as it became clear that we were serious about mobilising and working with local people, this turned into: “We’ve been waiting for years for something to happen round here, and we’re not going to let anything stop us!”
After twelve weeks of open Tuesday night meetings at which anyone could get involved in planning and organising, the first West Norwood Feast took place on April 3rd, 2011.
The four sites we’d identified — the gardens of St Luke’s Church, the forecourt of Rosebery’s auction house, the top of Chatsworth Way and the corner of York Hill — were transformed into a Food Fair, a Retro Village, an Artisan’s Market and the Gardener’s Corner. Each of these was run by a group of local volunteers.
The markets have continued on the first Sunday of every month, bringing thousands of visitors to the high street, with local shops reporting a substantial increase in trade. Entertainment from local musicians and improvisers, guided history walks from the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery, workshops at the Portico Gallery and tours of the South London Theatre have all added to the attraction. Even on days when it rains, the turn-out is surprisingly good, with a strong loyalty from residents determined to make the Feast a success. And when the sun comes out — well, someone needs to set up a sunscreen stall:
As of September 2011, we are supporting the volunteers to create a community-owned non-profit company which will become the long-term market operator. The revenues from the market days, together with local sponsorship, should make the Feast a sustainable long-term part of the life of West Norwood.
We’re grateful to the London Borough of Lambeth for funding this project — and to the amazing community of local residents and businesses giving their time and energy to make it happen. There’s always room for more people to get involved, so visit the West Norwood Feast website and find out how you can become part of the gang.