client: EcoWorld + Poplar Harca, contractors: Cuttle Construction, The London Mural Company + Accent London, with: Meanwhile Space CIC + High Street Works, photography: Jan Kattein Architects and Christopher Andreou Photography
Low business viability, a limited retail offer and vacant shops undermine what once was a key civic place for local people in Poplar. The Covid-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on the importance of local high streets as hubs for social support networks, as recreational assets, local employment providers and as places for essential food supplies, close to home.
In 2019, Poplar Harca and Eco World – who own the buildings that frame the street – comissioned High Street Works (Meanwhile Space’ and Jan Kattein Architects’ joint venture) to develop and implement a creative strategy to revive the high street. A three-pronged approach was developed.
1. The Start Here programme assists existing businesses to adapt their offer enabling them to better respond to changing customer needs. It also introduces new and innovative businesses into vacant retail units. Providing them with individually taylored business support helps to ensure that they stay, creating employment opportunities and diversifying the street’s offer
2. A creative works programme is designed to bring new audiences to Aberfeldy by transforming the high street into a place with cultural capital. Improving the visual appeal of shops and the sense of safety at night responds directly to community priorities.
3. A programme of engagement and outreach activities re-connects local people with their high street. An obligation on new businesses to engage with the local community through a series of give-back events builds a stronger community. Promoting Aberfeldy street as a worthy cultural destination to Londoners living beyond its’ usual catchment increases foot-fall and consequently business viability.
The epiphany of the strategy manifests in a piece of facade artwork reproduced across some 26 buildings. When developing the concept for the piece, we referenced the Bangladeshi kantha tradition of recycling old textiles to create something new as well as Poplar’s legacy of garment manufacture. A community call-out for fabric swatch donations provided the basis for the designs. We subsequently scanned the donated swatches and processed the images digitally to create a compelling patchwork to be applied to the facades. Cuttle Construction and the London Mural Company used some 874 liters of paint in 200 different colours to realise the work.
Poplar is changing and we are hoping that the the project will help to build common ground in Aberfeldy Street, creating opportunities for existing and new residents to meet in an inspirational and bustling local high street.