Participatory photography and storytelling with the users of a wide range of community centres in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, London.
Lauren Parr and Tom Elkins
Engage Here CIC
Globe After School Club
Postcode Society Trust
‘Focus on Communities’ was a project funded by the Postcode Society Trust, which explored the perspectives of a range of individuals who use the services provided by a number of community centres across Tower Hamlets and Hackney. The participants ranged in age from 4 to 80+.
Hackney is the 22nd most deprived local authority in England, and Tower Hamlets is the 38th most deprived local authority in England. There are also strong links between these boroughs, with many residents attending activities across the two, as part of the ‘East End’ London identity. Although both areas are considered to have strong creative offers, these are often costly and only available to the more affluent residents. Many residents in these areas have few chances to be involved in the arts, and are socially isolated due to poverty and inequality.
‘Focus on Communities’ provided a mechanism for engagement which aimed to improve social spaces. By working in close partnership with community centres it offered new activities to its members, building skills and confidence, and creating a rich archive of images and stories which share perspectives on what community means to those who live there. It enhanced the offers of the centres, bringing underrepresented perspectives together, and creating ways to promote community cohesion through exhibition, publication and engagement.
In the first half of 2023, a series of short workshops were delivered with users of community centres across Tower Hamlets and London. The workshops engaged a wide age range, with the youngest participant being 4, and the oldest over 80. Community centres were approached which did not have a specific activity using photography for community engagement, with the aim of encouraging their perspectives to be shared and heard by a range of stakeholders.
Nearly 50 residents of Hackney and Tower Hamlets participated in the workshops, with a publication developed which showcased their stories. All participants and partners were given copies of this publication to share with others.
A series of exhibition events were held at PhotoVoice’s gallery in Shoreditch, where participants were able to see their work exhibited, meet others from the borough, and celebrate their success. These events were also attended by local councillors, who were able to share the publication with others, further spreading the stories that the participants had shared.
The ‘Focus on Communities’ booklet is available to download here (PDF, 5.3MB)
“Extremely ecstatic. I am so happy to see it. It was such an experience. I was given a camera to go out with, it was mine for weeks. I took so much and I saw so much beauty, I never looked at my community that way before, but to see it here on the wall, the transformation to be in a gallery is so good. I remember when I first walked into this very space, I had no idea what it would grow to be to me, but I have had some of the happiest moments here.”
“It’s boosted my confidence, and showed me you’re not too old to learn something – if you put your mind to it you can do anything.”
“You made such a difference to me. You made a space where everyone was allowed to have their flaws, sometimes you look at someone training you like they know everything, you showed us how fine it is to be ourselves.”
“I now compose when I take photos, when I look at photos it’s different. I’ve made new friends. I’ve build connections. I’m more able to say what I think, thank you so much.”
“It’s definitely brought the community together, all the different views. Everyone is from different backgrounds and here it all is together, it inspires me for all the things we can do together. London is changing, we are a vibrant, inclusive, fantastic mix of stuff and this shows that and that’s hard to do. I like to think anyone could come and see this and see what we all have to offer.”
“When people take the pictures it’s inspirational. When you look at them you realise it’s not just a wall of pictures, each one has a person behind it. If you really look into the photos you can see that, we all have a creative side of our mind and these photos have a deeper meaning.”
Thanks to the support of the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, ‘Focus on Communities’ was funded by the Postcode Society Trust.
Header Image: © Grace 2023 | PhotoVoice | The Focus on Communities Partnership | ‘Focus on Communities’ | UK
“I think that I shall never see a sight as lovely as a tree. A tree that looks at the blue sky so high. And lifts her leafy arms spreading love so warm. Shining through is my late son’s favourite colour. I really do admire it.”