Lead Creative Homes artist, Holly Dabbs, tells the story of how our hub sessions at L&Q’s Ira Court helped turn a nondescript stairwell into a ‘Magnificent World’.
It’s a wet and windy first day to the project and we can’t get in the building, a five floor block of flats in South London I am wearing bright green dungarees and a yellow t-shirt thinking I should have brought a bigger jumper with me. Finally we get in touch with Tom the caretaker and he lets us in. Slightly bedraggled we start to set up for our first hub session in the wide hallway space at the entrance to Ira Court, an estate managed by L&Q Housing. It’s dimly lit and the walls are bear apart from a notice board with signs explaining where the bins go and a notice about a missing cat written in biro.
We have a selection of coloured paper, scissors, tape and tissue paper in a bright orange toolbox. I start to cut squares of paper and stick them on to the wall using blue tac.
“Do you think they will mind?” I ask my colleague Charlotte.
“I’ve checked with Tom”, She says. “He said it’s fine, if it stays up. I think he thinks it will be ripped down”.
We wait. Its 3:45pm and a mum and two wet boys push through the glass door from outside.
“Hi, we’re from Creative Homes”, I say, “We’re making a mural of our homes today, would you like to join in?’
The boys smile and look at their mum. “If you want to”, she says.
The boys sit down. “Our house is orange” says the younger boy, “and red”, says the older one. Their Mum rests on the side, texting. Over the next hour about twelve families pass through, many come and sit with us. By 4.30pm the entire wall is covered with houses, aliens, boats, fish, a whale and much more.
It is week 4 and we’re running another afternoon hub session in the stairwell of Ira Court. The front door is pushed open by two boys, running into the building laughing and shaking the rain from their coats.
“They’re here again”, they shout and run over to us. ‘Can we stay?’ they ask their mum.
“Okay”, she says and goes and sits by the door on her phone.
The boys talk excitedly about space as they make spaceships and planets.
“I’m making an eclipse”, says the older boy “It’s when the moon covers the sun, I have seen one!” He laughs.
A mum walks past. “Some of it fell down last week”, she says, “but we put it back up”.
I thank her and her little girl sits down to add to the collage. I help the little girl make a sun and she sticks it on the wall with lots of tape.
The boy’s mum has been speaking in Arabic on the phone and she hangs up.
“What do you think about the boy’s space scene?” I ask her.
She laughs, “all they talk about is space!”
I give the boys some more tape and paper. “We can make more planets at home”, the older one says as they get in the lift.
It’s the last day of the project. I look at my watch, 3:30pm and it’s already getting dark. I look around the stairwell; three of the large white walls are filled with brightly coloured collages depicting scenes of space, forests and towns. Two boys and their mum come crashing through the door. They are grinning, “Can we stay?”
“Yes of course, you need to finish the picture”, their mum says. We spread out our materials; we’re making festive star wands. The boys decorate them, talking loudly. They give us nicknames, “You’re Hol, you’re ‘H’ and you’re Char’, they say. The little one waves his willow star wand “disappear” he laughs as I cover myself up with a blanket. We then sing a few Christmas carols together.
“What should we call this mural?’ I ask.
“Magnificent World” the oldest boy says.
Lots of families walk through and we hand out wands for children to make at home. Everyone wishes us Happy Holidays. One mum says, “We are sad to see you go!”
Sadly we didn’t find out what happened to the missing cat but we left the residents of Ira Court with a beautiful mural in their communal area, a space for all the residents to be proud of.
Our L&Q Ira Court project ran from September to December 2015. During that time we worked with over 30 families, 8 of which were directly in their homes. We delivered over 200 craft pack directly to families’ doors and ran six hub sessions in the stairwell reaching over 30 families, many returning regularly.
For the stairwell mural, ‘Magnificent World’, to stay up for 3 months is a great achievement and shows how, with a little imagination, a dull everyday space can become an inspiring entrance to the place that you live.
Read more: ‘A prehistorical, playful parent’ – a journey of rediscovering play from hub to home and back again.
*All names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.