“I might be biased just because I live here…but I think that east London has a very particular thing. I feel that there is a very particular east London thing, which I can’t sort of verify or validate…”Architect and Educator, Creative Consultation Programme, 2021
“We want you to come and understand this demographic, this [part] of London for what it is. You have to understand us rather than the other way around if you understand what I’m saying.”Young Advisor, V&A East Youth Collective Programme, 2021
The people of east London are at the heart of what we do at V&A East and to ensure our development is led by the needs and wants of our local communities; consultation has, and will continue to be, an integral part of the development of V&A East. Over the last four years, we’ve been connecting and consulting with local youth groups, creative practitioners and educators to better understand what they want from V&A East. Our consultees have been involved across a range of work, from testing and responding to our curatorial approaches and how we interpret our collections, to discussing and thinking about how we might train and work with our security teams at V&A East to create a more inclusive, welcoming space. Later this year we will begin a new strand of consultation that will explore what our local communities want from our events and activities programme, before and after we open our doors.
There is no doubt in our minds that V&A East, to many people, is just another manifestation of the ongoing gentrification of east London. A space that is changing the character of its locality to cater to an audience that doesn’t reflect the true diversity or experiences of east London. Their concerns are our concerns, and we are actively listening to and sharing their insights across our teams to ensure that they are addressed, not only through our engagement, but also our operational development and design. Through these conversations we have shaped, and will continue to shape, spaces that we hope can serve and speak to the diversity of communities and people that represent our local community at V&A East.
“…I could really change my life and I would have one foot in the door and that is important for people like me. You need to look into helping people who want to get into the job market rather than working in McDonalds.”Young Person, Legacy Youth Voice Consultation, 2019
Throughout our time speaking and connecting with young people it’s clear that they want to see V&A East support local people through training, opportunities into work and by demystifying pathways into the creative sector. In response to this, we’re focusing on how we can embed young people into our processes, offer them an insight into our experiences whilst also highlighting to them how their existing skillsets, experiences and perspectives are valuable within the museum and the wider sector. V&A East was a founding partner of the STEP (Shared Training and Employment Programme) Programme with Create Jobs. Since the inception of the programme in 2017, the STEP Programme has offered a yearly, 6-12 month paid placement to a young resident of east London aged between 18-30 at V&A East. Over the years, our STEP interns have supported programming with local groups, developed and delivered on V&A Lates, and supported the research and development of our curatorial approaches. Earlier this year we also began our very first V&A East Youth Collective, bringing together a group of 15 young people (between the ages of 16-25) across the boroughs of Hackney, Newham, Waltham Forest, and Tower Hamlets to guide and consult with us on the development of V&A East. All members of our collective are paid for their time and we’ve dedicated sessions throughout the programme to talk specifically about career pathways into the creative sector. During these sessions our young people are able to speak with members of our team to ask about their journeys into the sector. In building and embedding these opportunities into our work, we hope to offer young people in east London a space for professional development and inspire them to think about how their creative interests and ambitions might flourish and lead to career paths that they may not have considered before.
“I do feel like [museums] can be alienating spaces and we’re putting [V&A East] in a location that it could really be key to igniting the local community. I really want to see how we can make it work with the people who are residents nearby.”Architect and Educator, Creative Consultation Programme, 2021
Within museums we often hear the term ‘hard to reach’ used to describe communities that do not engage with our spaces or programmes. Truthfully, it is not the case that any community is ‘hard to reach’, but rather that museums, their content, and approaches, can be hard to connect and engage with. We understand that museum spaces can feel exclusionary and alienating and subsequently irrelevant. As such, we have built an outreach programme that begins the work of dismantling the barriers between the museum and our audiences by working outside of our space, in our communities with the people we want to see inside our space. Since our inception, we have been partnering with local organisations and practitioners to be a part of a yearly programme of events. This year we’ll be working with Store Projects, a London based group of architects, designers and artists, to run a four-day programme for young people in East London as part of the EAST Education Summer School programme. We’ll also be partnering up with our neighbouring organisations and institutions in Stratford, as well as east London based designer and practitioner Sahra Hersi, to run family workshops in the annual Great Get Together event in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This year’s event will explore the theme of what cities of the future could mean to local families. In doing this work we are offering our audiences a fun way to engage and connect with our collection through creativity and making. We want to redress the relationships between our communities and museums, creating a stronger relationship of trust and personal investment for when we open our doors.
“If there isn’t enough of a kind of connection with the local, then it will feel like something that’s, you know, been planted into place.”Creative Consultation Programme, 2021
As well as our annual programmes of events, we are also committed to developing innovative projects that connect our local communities with artist practitioners and researchers to offer more in-depth engagement and root our work in east London. Collaborating with the V&A Research Institute (VARI) and supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we are running a series of programmes whereby we are activating our local spaces with our core stakeholders. For example, The Brickfield Newham project, a collaboration between VARI, University of East London, Newham Council and artist-led research and teaching project, Brickfield, hosted and facilitated a series of workshops and events exploring the history and heritage of housing, social displacement and regeneration through brickmaking and live performances by local students. Resolve, an interdisciplinary design collective, are our first ever V&A East Creative Youth Workers in Residence and have been working with young people across the boroughs of Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest to ask what they want to do within their own communities; sharing tools to plan and facilitate a programme of events and activities. Their workshops, ‘Starting from the Ends’ centre young people’s experiences and celebrate their individual tacit knowledge of their areas. Their work illuminates and showcases the richness and diversity of the different communities and peoples that make up east London. In the coming months, our V&A East digital residents (supported by Google Arts and Culture), A Vibe Called Tech, will also be working with local young people to better understand how digital content might be used to reach and inspire new audiences for the museum. These projects, and many more, not only allow us to create opportunities for sustained, in-depth engagement, exploring relevant and topical issues; but also inform the development of our spaces, operations and approaches, the stories we tell, and how we serve the people of east London.
“number one, it’s like you’re in- I don’t want to say in our space but it’s like you’re in the Olympic park in the centre of, like, everything…and if you really want to include people, you should include local artwork and include local aspiring artists.”Young Person, Hackney Quest, 2018
We are often told in our conversations with communities that V&A East needs to remember that east London already has its own creatives, communities and culture that needs to be drawn on and celebrated within the museum. It has a deep history of making, manufacture and creativity that needs to be explored. But, also, that these stories should be platformed and supported on an international scale. Our young people and local practitioners do not see V&A East as a space that should be considered as a hall of fame, but rather a revolving platform for people to showcase their creativity and tell their stories. We know that it is not enough to simply listen, but it is also important to act on the words we hear. We are developing a new curatorial approach that forefronts the stories and experiences of people within our spaces and are in the process of scoping and connecting with local makers, designers and artists that we want to work with. Over the coming years, we will develop an in-depth programme of projects to ensure that our local communities’ voices and perspectives are embedded into our galleries. It is important to us that the relationships that we build outside of the museum have a presence and an impact within our galleries and spaces. By doing this work now, we hope that, upon opening, V&A East opens its doors to more than just ‘visitors’, but rather an extensive community of friends that already feel connected to a space that embodies and represents that very unique and very special “east London thing”.