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SCT’s project in the London Borough of Waltham Forest was inspired by a group of teachers from two local primary schools and a secondary school along with the Friends of Stoneydown Park and local residents who all wanted to see a Speakers’ Corner established in their park both as a way of enhancing its environment and in order to provide a platform for their community. Following the development of projects in a major industrial city and an historic market town, the promotion of a scheme on a much smaller, neighbourhood scale was a particularly attractive challenge for SCT.
Two meetings took place at Stoneydown Primary School in the Spring of 2009 at which local people gave the project their backing and in June Central St Martins College, with a grant from the University of the Arts London’s Widening Participation Fund, launched an extensive consultation, involving young people in particular, on the design of a Speakers’ Corner for Stoneydown Park.
With the support of Waltham Forest Council, SCT’s own consultation was conducted over the course of the summer.
A Brief Introduction to Waltham Forest
As much as 20% of the east London borough, with Epping Forest to the east and the River Lee to the west, is taken up by open space, parks, reservoirs and, as its name suggests, woodland, with Chingford, Leyton, Leytonstone and, closest to Stoneydown Park, Walthamstow as its principal centres.
One of five London boroughs designated as hosts for London’s 2012 Olympic Games (with the velodrome to be built in Leyton), Waltham Forest has the 11th largest non-white minority ethnic population in England and Wales, including a community of over 30,000 Afro-Caribbeans/Africans and 17,000 people of Pakistani origin, and the fifth largest Muslim population in the country. It also ranks 19th among local authorities for over-crowded housing conditions, 29 th for unemployment and 17 th for the number of single-parent households.
Waltham Forest’s Cultural Legacy
The borough has a long and notable tradition as a centre for the arts. The Arts & Crafts movement, led William Morris, took root here in the mid nineteenth century and more recently the borough has been home to a range of artists, performers and sportspeople including Damon Albarn, David Bailey, David Beckham, Steve Bell, Peter Blake, Johnny Dankworth, Alan Davies, Ian Drury, Graham Gooch, Alfred Hitchcock, Derek Jacobi,TE Lawrence, Bobby Moore, Leslie Phillips, Ruth Rendell, Tony Robinson and Meera Syal.
William Morris (1834-1896) has perhaps the longest lasting legacy of Walthamstow’s sons and daughters. One of the most influential figures of the Victorian Age, Morris was an artist, writer, publisher, designer, architect, friend of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters and poets, leader of the Arts & Crafts Movement and founder of the Socialist League.
His continuing legacy can be seen in the furniture, fabrics and wallpaper which decorates countless homes and buildings the length and breadth of the country.
“It took me years to understand that words are often as important as experience, because words make experience last.”
“One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon the earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question.”
“I hope that we shall have leisure from war – war commercial, as well as war of the bullet and the bayonet; leisure from the knowledge that darkens counsel; leisure above all from the greed of money, and the craving for that overwhelming distinction that money now brings: I believe that, as we have even now partly achieved liberty, so we shall achieve equality, and best of all, fraternity, and so have leisure from poverty and all its griping, sordid cares.”
“No man is good enough to be another’s master.”
“History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created.”
The William Morris Gallery in the former family home on Forest Road, Walthamstow celebrates the great man’s life and work.
Design Process Under Way
In June, Central St Martins College organised two workshops at which local residents and pupils from the local primary schools enjoyed themselves working with plastescine and other materials on ideas which, over time, will contribute to the design of Stoneydown Park’s Speakers’ Corner.
Stoneydown Primary School has already made its creative mark on the local environment. Children working with Linda Hughes, a professional artist and school parent, have designed and painted the Bridge Project, a series of panels which now decorate once vandalised railway bridges in the streets around the school. The bridges form part of the annual E17 art trail, put together by local artists.
Speakers’ Corner Prototype at Stoneydown School
Speakers’ Corner came to Stoneydown for the school’s open day on 11 July. It was first set up in the Park but then driven by the rain into the school playground. Despite the poor weather parents and children alike took to the stage and thoroughly enjoyed both decorating and performing on it.
Stoneydown Committee Takes Shape
On 19 November, a number of those whom SCT in the summer came together at the Queens Road Community Centre to set up a Stoneydown Speakers’ Corner Founding Committee with a welcome pledge of basic administrative support from Waltham Forest Council. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for creating a permanent Speakers’ Corner in the park if it can be funded and it is hoped that Central St Martins College will be able to work with Waltham Forest College, Willowfield Secondary School, the local primary schools and the Council on a design approach. The Committee plans to begin planning for a project launch when it meets again in the new year.
Committee Plans Design Competition as Council Funds Park Improvements
Shortly after November’s meeting Waltham Forest Council announced that it would fund a competion to design a permanent Speakers’ Corner for Stoneydown Park which it would then install as part of a series of planned enhancements in the park. A very well attended meeting on 19 January 2010 agreed an outline brief through which the local community could be fully involved in the development of competing designs by teams of Central St Martin College students.
The Committee plans to consult local people before deciding which design will adorn the park in time for the project’s launch, probably in the summer. An open day took place on 2 March during which local residents, users of the park, pupils of the local schools and their parents and others had a chance to have their say about how the four competing teams of Central St Martin students should develop their designs.
Armed with a wealth of local knowledge and ideas, four teams of students spent March and April creating detailed designs for public display and then final selection in May.
Stoneydown Speakers’ Corner Designs On Display
The Brief for the students competing for the design of the Stoneydown Speakers’ Corner called for an approach which took account of the characteristics of the site, the purpose of the Speakers’ Corner, the views and interests of the local community and, not least, the affordability of actually creating the structure. They came up with four equally high quality but very different approaches.
The designs went on public display at Stoneydown School on Tuesday 25 May and visitors were given an opportunity to express their views and preferences.
Stoneydown Design – and Chair – Selected
On 27 July, the Stoneydown Speakers’ Corner Committee duly chose a design following four excellent presentations by the student teams – and also elected James O’Rourke, the former Ward Councillor who has been a driving force behind the project, as its chair.
The winning design Stepping Stones designed by Hayley Clack, Stephanie Romig and Yoo Kyeong, is multifunctional, creating not only a Speakers’ Corner but also seating and tables, some of which feature board games such as chess. The design also acknowledges the work of William Morris who lived much of his life nearby on Forest Road. A copy of the presentations for each of the designs can be found on the Designing Speakers’ Corners page.
Speaking after the meeting, Claire Tansley of the Friends of Stoneydown Park who is also a member of the Speakers’ Corner Committee, said:
“We’re delighted with our choice but it was really difficult to make. All the designs were of such high standard and they all had so much to offer both the park and the community. In the end we decided on one which can be used as seating and even a picnic and games area when it’s not a Speakers’ Corner. So it really does have something for everyone.”
“We’re really looking forward to launching our Speakers’ Corner when it’s installed later this year. It’ll be a new focal point for the park but it will also provide an important platform for our community and I hope it’s going to be in regular use.”
Jayne Cominetti, headteacher of Stoneydown Primary School and another Committee member, added:
“The design competition has been a great experience for the children. They not only had their say when the students started work but also about the finished products. Now we’re looking forward not just to seeing it in the park but using it as well. In fact we’ve just had training in public speaking from the English Speaking Union so we’re hopeful that the next generation of great orators will be Walthamstow children!”
The design is to be installed as part of a package of enhancements which the Council will be undertaking in the park during the summer and Cllr Chris Robbins, Waltham Forest Council Leader, said:
“This is a real community initiative and I’m so glad that the Council has been able to play its part in it. We need to hear the voices of local people and I’m very excited about the platform we’re helping to provide in Stoneydown Park.”
A number of local organisations, including the police and the William Morris Gallery, put up stalls in the park before the Mayor of Waltham Forest unveiled the Speakers’ Corner, brilliantly designed by students of Central St Martins College of Art & Design and installed in the park over the summer by Mitre Construction as part of a £30,000 package of improvement works undertaken by the Council.
After short speeches by local MP Stella Creasey, the Mayor, Stoneydown Committee chair James O’Rourke and SCT director Peter Bradley, pupils from Stoneydown primary school, who had been trained in the art of public speaking by the English Speaking Union, kept the large crowd spellbound with eloquent speeches from the Speakers’ Corner on subjects as diverse as animal conservation, crime and smoking. The event was brought to a end by Waltham Forest Council Cabinet Member Geraldine Reardon.
The sun shone throughout on a great day for Stoneydown and a wonderful exhibition of talent by the community’s youngest stars and a fitting culmination of eighteen months’ inspiartion and effort by the many partners who contributed to London’s newest Speakers’ Corner.