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make:good architects on collaborating with local traders to create East End Garlands trail

Working with the local community is a key ingredient in the work of make:good, an architecture and design studio working in East London. They believe in getting together with people who live in the area to create work which really tells the story of their business.

Catherine Grieg launched make:good in 2009 and works on projects that reflect what people actually want to see in their environment. The architect is a trustee of the Awesome Foundation, which helps to find and fund social change projects, and is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

‘Participation lies at the heart of everything we do,’ Greig says. ‘But without due care, participation can be unequal: the ‘usual suspects’ with the loudest voices participate regularly, while others feel their contribution is unimportant.’

make:good talk to the local business community

Greig says it’s important to talk with business owners about their passions, specialisations and the tools and materials behind their unique trades. ‘Our work is always focused on participation and it was a real privilege to spend time with the business owners and hear their stories.’

A project that make:good are particularly proud of is the East End Garlands, which was commissioned by Tower Hamlets Council. This involved working with 21 local businesses along Roman Road and Bethnal Green to create a unique item that celebrates local traders.

Meeting the Roman Road locals was a particular joy. ‘It was lovely, every shop had a very different feel and personality – the owners too. It was interesting to see how in every interaction the businesses took a different approach. Some sat us down, some took around the shop whilst others would go down a narrow staircase or up to the old shop in the attic and return with these incredible objects and artefacts.’

Victoria’s Fish bar in Globe Town is a firm favourite on the Roman Road.

Asking questions is an important part of make:good’s ethos. So they queried people with questions such as: ‘What are the tools of your trade?’ and ‘What can’t you do your work without?’

Local traders were then asked to artistically arrange their tools on the floor to be photographed. These pictures were then used as part of the digital artwork which ultimately created the garland. This was unique to each business and placed in their shop windows.

East End Garlands project

‘We loved getting to talk to the fantastic entrepreneurs running businesses and find out what tools, objects, products they need to be able to make their shops stand out,’ Greig explains. ‘The diversity of all the objects was fantastic to see and it was a delight to turn these into decorations that are especially for them.’

Hilarity was the order of the day, says Greig. ‘The butcher was probably one of the most amusing moments, being taken behind the counter and given a bloodied butchers knife as a ‘tool of the trade’. We also had a photoshoot in the walk in fridge.

Peckover Butchers on the Roman Road.

‘We also had some amusing conversations with the hairdresser about the weirdest haircut she has been asked to do. The most fun was trying to find a corner in each shop to lay out the objects to take pictures of them – at Simply Fresh we squeezed into a tiny space behind the deli counter and got to look at the shop through the chorizos and wheels of cheese!’

Local traders give thumbs up

Rosie Vincent, Events and Communications Coordinator at Roman Road Trust worked with make:good as a facilitator on the East End Garlands project. ‘It all happened really quickly – within the space of a week. We spent a day talking to the traders about the project then Make:good visited the businesses to take photographs of the shops and the tools of their trade for their garland-making workshop. Everyone loved it.’

Simply Fresh for local and an organic food range.

‘It was received really well, especially at the Victoria Fish Bar, who really loved the garland. Margarita De-Cristofano said it really made her feel like part of the community!’

Neba Sere, Community Engagement Coordinator at Roman Road Trust was impressed by the impact that the garlands had. ‘All the traders who took part were pleased that Tower Hamlets had commissioned this and the garlands were for free. Many locals told me how much they appreciated the idea and one even made similar garlands out of paper with her family over Christmas.’

Although the project was specifically for Christmas, the garlands can be made for other seasonal events such as Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day or Easter celebrations.

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Tabitha Stapely

Tabitha Stapely is the founder of Social Streets C.I.C, a not-for-profit media company using journalism to strengthen communities, particularly those in disadvantaged or neglected areas. Prior, Stapely was a writer and editor for national titles including The Telegraph Saturday Magazine, Elle and Red magazines.

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