By Daniel Mazliah
I love Loughborough Junction. But blimey – on a cold, wet evening it can look pretty grey and grim.
Luckily two artists have teamed up with residents to cheer up gloomy passers-by.
You may have come across multi-coloured snow, a wall of sweets, post boxes for love letters or Guajarati graffiti on the street. That’s them. Now they’re getting the community to ‘yarn bomb’ the Junction as part of LJ’s Big Lunch, encouraging folk to knit colourful wool to cover trees and lampposts with yellows, reds and purples.
LJ residents come up with the ideas for the projects and Lizon Tijus (from Hackney) and Margherita Poggiali (from LJ) bring them to life.
I’ve written a lot about big meaty regeneration; the kind that involves new town squares, trains and supermarkets.
But here is a different way of bringing about change.
Originally from Italy and France, a common interest urban environments and how you spark a sense of belonging brought Margherita and Lizon together.
After a project in Kings Cross, they then turned their attention to Margherita’s neighbourhood.
“LJ is quite divided. There are lots of things happening, but they’re not really visible from the outside – like this café, you wouldn’t know it’s here. We are trying to bring out people’s creativity out and connect people,” said Margherita sampling an exotic tea at the discreet but fun Sunshine International Arts Café.
Lizon remembers her first impression of LJ: “It was very grey, very disjointed. I couldn’t see anything happening…”
But Margherita explains how she’s learnt to see beyond the rain and the rubbish.
“My view of LJ is linked to all the people I know here, all the things I’ve discovered. Going to Joel’s Café for breakfast in the summer when he has built his Portuguese garden at the back. That’s why we’re interested in building people’s memories.”
The artists want to create moments that stick with people, so that they start to look differently at what’s around them.
They began work in November in front the bird seed shop-cum-studio on the side of Bizspace on Shakespeare Road.
“We had flocks of people. ‘How much is this?’ they asked. ‘No take it’, we said. They were confused but enthusiastic”, says Margherita.
Then they gave up the reins and asked local people to provide the creative spark.
“Every intervention we do is co-created with someone who lives or works here. It is by and for LJ. With just some paint and some paper they can really change the way people see the environment,” explains Margherita.
“We sit down with residents for two or three hours and talk about their interests. A lady wanted to do a love box for LJ for Valentine’s Day. They have the idea and we create it together. We have a very small budget, as everything is self-funded.”
They’ve done 10 “interventions”.
We head up Coldharbour Lane. They point out the latest work: “We live here” written in each of the 24 languages spoken in the area.
They asked local people to provide the words, they turned them into spray-paint stencils and tagged the streets of LJ one night.
Outside the café the pavement says “Dis is me place”; the owner Ray’s Trin translation.
The girls point out the same phrase in Urdu, Somali, Arabic, German and Portuguese. It’s gone down well. Even a policeman who caught them spraying the pavement came away charmed.
In fact, all of the interventions have been warmly welcomed, says Lizon.
The wall of sweets: “It lasted two hours… the kids took them all and then had a sweet fight. At the beginning the kids were like ‘what are you doing?’ Sixteen-year-olds are not into a lot of things. But one said ‘did you do this? This is really nice thank you’”
The wishing wall: A local Mum was interested to see if other people had same desires for LJ as she had. So we decided to do it for New Year. We put out lots of coloured paper and pens and there were lots of responses… lots of people came to read other people’s wishes.”
The colourful snow: “We had food colouring, diluted in spray bottles. We had lots of kids coming to check it out. The Metro came to take photographs.”
People now look out for the next intervention. Lizon and Margherita feel they are starting to see something change in LJ.
Lizon sums it up: “It’s a really good thing if people start to be proud of the area.”
Margherita adds: “We have smiles… We’ve seen two cops playing with two teens on one of the interventions.”
Inspired, my wife and I are taking the kids along to meet the artists to plan our own intervention. Here’s the advice from Lizon and Margherita: “Please don’t think about it too much before we met though, as it is really nice to all get ideas flowing together.” Too late.
To find out more and to get involved: http://www.thehouseinthejunction.com/