I reckoned that I’d be writing this text as an outsider, but I wasn’t really made to feel like one. When I first arrived in Walthamstow for the 2015 E17 Art Trail, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew little about the area bar the existence of the William Morris Gallery, which was opened by Prime Minister Clement Attlee in 1950 and that a local Spar was selling seagull eggs for £7.50 each - a sure sign of gentrification! The Art Trail website told me that this year’s theme was “storytelling.” No preparation was required. “Just come down and take it all in” was the advice from my brilliant hosts, two talented Walthamstow residents also known as “Venue 28” on the Art Trail map.
As an urban geographer I am drawn to the different ways in which the built environment can be used to support creativity. With a varied programme, which included workshops, live music and spoken word performed in long sun-kissed back gardens, a puppet show, festivals within festivals and a night dedicated to the headless horseman the E17 Art Trail was the best window through which to view and appreciate Walthamstow’s thriving creative culture. I was impressed by how the local people pulled together; they turned their homes into temporary viewing galleries to make the visitors feel like they there were part of the community. There was tea, coffee and cakes on offer too.
The “Trail” in the title gave it away. It felt comfortable having no main venue – no Great Hall where everyone could gather and gaze in one direction at some spectacle on the main stage. The participating venues were spread across a fair chunk of North East London. I like the feeling of crossing boundaries and being close to them. E 11: On one excellent guided walk I hoofed it across to the Leyton Industrial Village to Masquerade 2000, a space where costumes are made for events such as the Notting Hill Carnival. Colours, wings and feathers prefaced by the smell of fresh bread which wafted out from Allied Bakeries. I also remember the hum of the M11, which told me that I was close to crossing another boundary into Leytonstone.
Visiting different venues on foot is the best way to see the treasures of any neighbourhood. Without the E17 Art Trail, Walthamstow would struggle to find a more communal way to showcase its talent and the warmth and friendliness of its people.