From opening artists’ studios and workspaces under the arches at Ladywell Bridge, to hosting exhibitions, performances and film screenings in a former Victorian laundry in Forest Hill, arts organisation V22 is breathing new life into rundown and derelict buildings across south London…
Words: Nikki Spencer
Tara Cranswick, founder and director, is on a mission to create a new kind of arts organisation, and she’s already making quite an impact within local communities, providing much-needed studio and workshop space for artists, artisans and creative professionals, as well as running charitable events and educational projects through the not-for-profit wing, the V22 Foundation.
V22 is also making waves on the Stock Exchange. Created in 2006 and jointly owned by artists and investor-patrons, V22 PLC was the first publicly listed arts organisation, and in 2013 it became a founding member of London’s Social Stock Exchange.
South east London is the place to be because it’s where all the artists and creatives are
Although based in Dalston, the organisation is increasingly involved in projects in south east London. ‘South east London is the place to be because it’s where all the artists and creatives are,’ declares Cranswick. ‘It’s where much more exciting stuff is happening now.
’Three years ago, V22 took over Louise House, a Grade II Victorian listed building situated on Dartmouth Road – between the Forest Hill Baths and the library. Named after Queen Victoria’s daughter, who laid the first stone in 1890, it was purpose-built as an ‘industrial’ home for East End orphan girls and those whose parents were unable to look after them.
In the homes (there was a boys’ home next door, which was demolished in 2000) children were fed, clothed, housed and taught a skill so they could earn a living. In the 1930s the home became a children’s welfare centre before being closed down in 2005 and left boarded up and in a state of disrepair.
Fast forward to 2017 and the building houses 15 studios for artists and creatives, ranging from a Turner Prize-nominated artist to jewellery designers and writers. At the back there’s a community garden and the former laundry building has been converted into a gallery and event space.
‘It is wonderful to be able to bring old buildings back to life and use them in creative ways,’ says Cranswick, ‘although to be honest we kind of got into it by accident! It was all we could afford – but then we realised how wonderful these spaces are.’
In October last year V22 partnered with local community groups to take over Forest Hill Library, which was earmarked for closure
Last year, V22 put on a Summer Club at Louise House featuring over 60 events in partnership with over 50 artists and organisations, and it was so popular that this month they are bringing it back with a packed programme of events aimed at both adults and families.
Among those taking part is internationally acclaimed local artist and mental health advocate Liz Atkin, who has become well-known for her charcoal drawings, which she uses to combat anxiety whenever she is travelling on the train or Tube, and then gives away to fellow passengers. Atkin already runs regular children’s classes at Louise House and will be teaching art workshops taking inspiration from Louise House’s community garden.
In October last year V22 partnered with local community groups to take over Forest Hill Library next door, which was earmarked for closure under local authority cuts, and six months on it’s a bustling hive of activity. ‘There’s everything from toddler sessions to an over 55’s group and all sorts of talks and events. What’s wonderful is that we can make use of the facilities of Louise House next door too,’ explains General Manager Simon Higgs.
‘For years, Louise House was boarded up and overgrown and it’s now lovely to have this double fronted landscaped space that everyone can enjoy.’ Among recent activities have been free creative writing classes with the libraries’ Writer in Residence, Irenosen Okojie, whose debut novel Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask Award.
Over in Ladywell, this spring V22 took over seven railways arches under Ladywell Bridge, which are now home to a variety of artistic enterprises including an Oscar-nominated film composer, a sculptor, a photographer and a talented furniture restorer. This summer, V22 has also become custodian of the stunning Georgian Manor House in Lee which Simon Higgs now also manages. ‘It is a fantastic old building with not just the library, but so many beautiful rooms too,’ he says.
Over in Ladywell, this spring V22 took over seven railways arches under Ladywell Bridge, which are now home to a variety of artistic enterprises including an Oscar-nominated film composer
‘It’s early days and we are getting the library services and activities sorted first as things had got very run down, but there is so much scope for the future. We are encouraging people to put on courses here and the Baring Room upstairs is wonderful for weddings as it looks out over the gardens and the lake.’
Further afield, V22 is also the new guardian of Orpington’s medieval priory and the adjoining library. They are planning on opening artists’ studios in the old library soon, and have long term plans to re-open the much-loved priory to the public. It’s clearly very much a case of ‘watch this space’…
The V22 Summer Club runs in the old laundry building behind Louise House from 22 July–27 August. See v22collection.com