In June 2021, Spectacle had the opportunity to work with Dr. Michelle Nicholson-Sanz and provide video training for the participants in her innovative Young Ecovisions project.
Dr. Nicholson-Sanz is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London .
During the pandemic she launched a call for young people around the world to share their ecovision – an idea for how to improve their environment and engender greater sustainability in their community. Four finalists were selected, two from India, one from Malawi, and one from England.
Dr. Nicholson-Sanz reached out to Spectacle as the second half of this ambitious project began: developing the ecovision of the finalist from Malawi, Fanny Chidoola. In order to realise Fanny’s ecovision, she partnered with Malawian forestry science student Khumbo Matemba. Fanny and Khumbo would be mentored by Dr Nicholson-Sanz to stage a theatrical performance to encourage the stakeholders in their area to realise the changes needed. The performance would be filmed and this material, as well as further footage collected by participants, would become a final short film detailing the ecovision and it’s progress.
As Dr. Nicholson-Sanz lives in Kent, England, the actual filming would need to be done by the participants on the ground in Malawi, and with a limited budget the participants would be making the most of the camera they already had in their hands in the form of a smartphone.
Spectacle has been developing a training programme for just such remote smartphone based video research projects. Anyone who has tried knows, it can be difficult to achieve good quality videos on a smartphone, and even more difficult to record footage which can be easily edited. Through a series of participatory workshops, Spectacle worked to upgrade the capabilities of the participants’ smartphones affordably, and offered clear guidance on best practices and filming techniques.
By the end of the workshop series, the participants felt ready to use their smartphones to record the performances, instruct others on how to get the best results from their smartphones, and already had recorded a good bit of quality footage of self interviews, location footage, and interviews with other stakeholders on the ground.
We are very excited to see the final short film from Dr. Nicholson-Sanz’s Young Ecovisions project when it premiers.
If you are running or considering starting a participatory video project, consider the possibilities of Spectacle’s training workshops for your participants or yourself. We conduct our training remotely, in almost any timezone, and using any equipment available from smartphones to camcorders. We have worked with hundreds of academics, researchers, and community organisations and received very positive feedback on our approach and the results that our trainees can achieve with their cameras after just a few workshops.
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This is the second year this School has run. The School consists of five intensive online weekends from February 26 to March 27. The public is welcome to join online film screenings. For those that sign up to the school the films will be followed by live debates on different facets of participatory video making. These courses will walk viewers down a path of shared audiovisual production practices, and seek to find together new ways to show reality.
The school will gather over 70 passionate documentary makers who embrace participatory tools and methods. Tutors will include Angelo Loy, Aline Hervé, Marco Damilano, Andrea Segre, Stefano Collizzolli, Davide Crudetti, Martina Tormena, Lucia Pornaro, Aline Hervé, Sergio Marchesini, Alberto Cagol, Sara Zavarise, Giulia Campagna, Maud Corino, and Chiara Tringali
Following a screening of The Truth Lies in Rostock, Mark Saunders and Michele De Laurentiis will discuss the film and invite participants to think about how participatory video can be a journalistic tool for community led investigative documentaries.
The film will be screened live on Facebook and you can find a link here.
The School is run by ZaLab is an association of filmmakers and social workers based in Padua, Italy. ZaLab promotes advocacy campaigns aimed to spread democracy and minority rights, especially through a grassroots distribution network.They focus on promoting their documentaries through independent and non commercial distribution.
As England enters a third lockdown where all people are ordered to “stay at home,” at Spectacle we are reminded of a community in Clapham Old Town, Lambeth SW4 that was told to “get out” of their homes.
In Rectory Gardens, there lived a group of creative and industrious people. As young artists and divergent thinkers they turned a derelict bombed out row of uninhabitable houses into a flourishing artistic community. For forty years they lived in a housing backwater largely unaffected by social housing policies, despite sporadic attempts by the council to “formalise” the street. They created a housing cooperative, until Lambeth, the ‘cooperative Council’ began taking their “million pound” houses from under their feet. The community that now included the vulnerable, elderly, and unwell, was broken up and dispersed.
A Tragedy in the Commons
Rectory Gardens (RG) is a L shaped Victorian pedestrian street in Clapham Old Town SW4 that was badly damaged by bombing during WW2. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the decimated houses attracted a group of squatters who saw the opportunity to create a utopia. This motley crew of characters with their own ideologies, housing needs, and reasons for living outside of the norm, formed a collective community which lived in relative harmony for four decades.
By the 1980s these squatters had revitalized the houses, and formed a housing cooperative. Rectory Gardens offered a home for all kinds of artists, free-thinkers, draft dodgers, and other socially liminal characters. Through the 80 and 90s, it remained a diverse community at the epicentre of a flourishing arts scene.
The street was host to an industrious community of artists, musicians, poets and unconventional ‘free thinkers’ who found a cheap way of living while developing their creative endeavors. It became a hub of cultural activities initiating art studios and cafes that brought life to the area. Spectacle interviewed both Vivienne Westwood and Maggi Hambling about the value of Rectory Gardens’s cultural contributions.
Residents of this dynamic community were the initiators of much that made the area distinct and attractive, the skate park and cafe on clapham common, Cafe des Artistes, Fungus Mungus, Voltaire Studios, bric-a-brac shops, rehearsal studios, artisan crafts and pool of skilled creative labour. The street itself had a public garden that served as a safe play area in the day and a performance and social space in the evening.
As with any tragedy, their success was key to their end as well. The artistic growth contributed to the popularity of the neighborhood and ultimately its subsequent gentrification. The council had its eyes on the properties, and though the residents tried to work with the council to legalize their living arrangement the deal fell through. The residents were recently evicted by Lambeth Council, who sold the houses to a developer on the private market.
Evicting the community was devistating for the mental health and well-being of many of these elderly and vulnerable residents. They lost not only their homes but their community and support networks. Many struggled to live away from their home of forty years, some died or were sectioned. Housing is integral to well-being, a point overlooked by this profit driven housing department.
Spectacle at Rectory Gardens
In the spring of 2014 Spectacle was contacted by the residents of Rectory Gardens. They wanted to record the final months of their squat-turned housing-cooperative. Rectory Gardens had been a lively arts community for over forty years, but growing conflict with the local council left the residents desperately fighting to avoid eviction, something that perhaps some media advocacy and intervention could assist them with, they believed.
During our preliminary engagement with Rectory Gardens, Spectacle offered training to any residents who were interested in filming techniques. Spectacle conducted workshops where participants learned camera techniques, collected peers’ stories, and collectively discussed the footage and ways to continue the production process. The production process was dictated by the participants themselves, and they shaped the narrative scope by inviting ex-residents to contribute with their memories. This work developed into an archive of oral histories of the street.
The production has continued for over six years, far longer than the initial few months originally envisioned. Together, Spectacle and Rectory Gardens residents have collected over 150 hours of footage including: long interviews with residents; key events on the street; residents resisting evictions; historic footage filmed by residents during the 90s; and residents in their new flats, reflecting on living away from their community where they lived for decades.
During Spectacle’s engagement, RG has been dismantled through evictions and relocations, and the residents have been scattered to various and disparate areas of the borough. The street, on the other hand, has been transformed to make way for the arrival of new wealthy tenants.
Framing the Street
Spectacle’s video archive of Rectory Gardens brings out many topical themes and offers inspiration for the post-Covid City through an examination of the past. Rectory Gardens is a portrait of forty years of resistance to the government housing policies.
The houses themselves were initially built as philanthropic poor-quality Victorian housing for low-income workers. After Rectory Gardens was bombed and left derelict post WW2, it provided a solution for postwar homelessness through squatting. It offered fertile ground for experimenting with alternative ways of living, resisted the “slum clearance” in the 1970s, Thatcherism, and the sale of social housing in the ‘80s. Their methods and ideologies represent a range of approaches including anarcho individualism, anarcho-syndicalism, socialism, capitalism of small artisanal businesses looking for cheap space, and the daily necessity of the socially excluded and the legally marginalised.
By the 2000s, the constant push to turn London’s affordable housing into profit, was nibbling at the edges of Rectory Gardens as well. The insidious forces of “regeneration” and contemporary privatised gentrification have been endemic in London where, even by global standards, the commodification of real estate is extreme. Through eviction and rehousing the community was broken up, and the squatters were replaced with live-in guardians, the modern sanitised, privatised version of squatting.
It’s important to note that not all parts of London have been equally gentrified, and Lambeth Council, where Rectory Gardens is located, was famous for its tolerance of alternative housing organisations and leftist leanings. They referred to themselves as ‘the cooperative council’ and ‘Red Ted’ Knight and his ‘Socialist Republic of Lambeth’ were the bete-noir anti hero of the tabloids. There were many houses like Rectory Gardens which were uninhabitable after the war, and Lambeth had few resources to deal with them. Squatters quickly took advantage of the council’s disinterest and moved into these spaces. Lambeth greatly benefited from the labour of these groups, and many cooperatives were able to legalise their situation, but RG was not.
The Project Now
The filming part of this project has come to a close, and we are looking for partners in the next phase – telling the story of what has disappeared.
We are searching for funding and partners to assist in bringing the dispersed community together again for an online participatory editing process. The process will let the former residents of Rectory Gardens tell their story, by sifting through the 150 hours of footage and drawing out narratives and themes to share with a wider audience.
Searching for Partners for Rectory Gardens Online Participatory Video Project
If you are interested in exploring collaborations or can suggest potential funding streams please get in contact. We welcome academic researchers, activists, social historians, and all others.
This project is relevant to: well-being, health, housing, social housing, urbanism, urban planning, human geography, sociology, participatory methods, co-creatation, co-authorship, knowlege sharing, community filmmaking, and participatory film.
On the 16th of July our film will be screened at the Pepy’s estate 50th anniversary festival in Deptford (SE8), which is running from 2-10pm.
We worked on this film with the residents of the Pepy’s estate as part of our poverty and the media project. Our film shows the effects the BBC’s documentary series ‘The Tower: A Tale Of Two Cities’ had on the residents of the Pepy’s estate and their views on how their community was portrayed. At the time of release The Tower received mixed reviews, it won awards but also sparked controversy as some people claim it was based on stereotypes of people who live on council estates.
Our full film will be available shortly on vimeo on demand and we encourage you to come and watch it at the Pepy’s festival on Saturday at 9pm where it will be screened. For more information on the festival and up to date information of the screening times you can find out on our social media.
The Big Local Trust has awarded £1 million to Copley Close, Cuckoo estate and Gurnell Grove estate, in Hanwell, Ealing to help develop new community facilities over the next 10 years. The improvements will be decided by residents and implemented throughout the area.
This is a short participatory film made by Spectacle and shot by young people from the area about the changes the community would like to see on their estate. It is also a documentation of the estate as it is now. We hope to revisit in the future to document developments.
The Big Local is a Big Lottery funded project that is awarded each year to a Local Authority. Among the current projects based in London there is Clapham Junction/West Battersea, Peabody Avenue and Churchill Garden Estate, North Brixton, World’s End Estate and Lots Road Area, Wormholt and White City, South Bermondsey and Somers Town.
Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council, said: “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to secure this extra funding for Copley Close. There are some really excellent projects already established there and I’m sure this money will be well spent.“
Hanwell Community Centre at the heart of the Hanwell Big Local neighbourhood improvement scheme.
Among the upcoming changes, Copley Close Community Hall and The Base will be demolished and most activities relocated to an improved Hanwell Community Centre –now under Ealing Council control– with space and potential for new uses and facilities. Hanwell community group Empowering Action and Social Esteem (EASE), which works to improve the lives of people living on the Copley Close Estate, will also be moving temporarily to the centre with a hope of staying there. For the past few years, it has been located in The Base.
Jackie Sear, chief executive of EASE, said: “This is great news not just for Copley Close but for the surrounding areas too. The money will hopefully be used to enable existing services to be funded for years to come, but most of all to ensure the needs of the community are met. This has come at an important time in regards to regeneration for the area and will definitely engage the residents in decision making.”
EASE has been chosen to create the vision for the changing area and has been trying to get everyone involved in the process ever since. This film is part of their message to the people living in Copley Close, Cuckoo and Gurnell Grove estates. It offers a wide range of ideas which are hopefully just the beginning of the discussion.
DMAU’s research project on Participatory Documentary features a video report that introduces one of Spectacle’s participatory projects APaNGO. The video explains the projects purpose – developing a strong community based network that promotes urban participation in planning through social media.
“The central aim of Spectacle’s video workshops is to train residents to film and edit video footage and through this capture and influence the changing physical and human face of their neighbourhood.” Mark Saunders, Spectacle Founder.
DMAU specialises in documentary film-making and urban research. DMAU (or Digital Media Architecture Urbanism) provide a selection of participatory media in the form of visual essays, interviews and case studies.
“Our work focuses on projects – designs and documentaries – that improve the public realm, be that built designs or temporary events and interventions, with an emphasis on work that has a positive social or environmental impact” – Daryl Mulvihill, DMAU Founder.
The scope of this project spreads across various countries in the EU and works upon maintaining strong communities. It is therefore a good example of how participatory media can influence and support social development.
An accompanying interview with Spectacle founder Mark Saunders gives a broader understanding of how Spectacle works with communities to encourage social media. The interview explains the importance that participatory production workshops have, and the significance they have upon urban regeneration.
The DMAU research project explores:
“The potentials for the use of documentary practice in urban research and design projects go much further than the traditionally formatted video production. New interactive documentaries combine film with a range of other media; photography, maps, soundscapes and data visualisations to create an immersive experience for the viewer. Next to this participatory documentary has the ability to empower and engage communities by bringing their story to a wider audience. We will see how interactive and participatory documentary is not simply about producing stories. It is as much about designing a storytelling process that engages with the voices of people impacted by an event or ongoing situation.”
Check out a recording of Mark Saunders talking at the 2012 conference for International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA).
In the presentation Mark, describes strategies of running an independent media company with an agenda for social justice and human rights.
He also discusses his methods of participatory media, people involved in a story being behind a camera and how this technique was particularly effective in his film ‘The Truth Lies in Rostock‘. Mark references his other projects as well as the documentary he is currently working on called ‘Bookchin on Bookchin‘. A clip of this film is shown at the end, with Murray Bookchin an American social ecologist, philosopher and anarchist describing his thoughts about society.
On Monday we had a successful afternoon filming location shots around the Silwood estate including Regeneration Road and Oldfield Grove. We also filmed shots of the incinerator and the work site near by.
We are coming to the end of this series of inter-generational workshops, so why not get involved and make the most of the last workshops! We will be holding a public screening shortly to show what has been filmed during this series.
The Silwood Video Group continued this week as workshops were held on Tuesday in the Silverlock Centre and around the estate. We were able to conduct our usual sound and video workshops, taking new location shots around Silwood and engaging with residents curious about our work. This was followed by a screening in the Silverlock centre from 6 to 8, and preparations were discussed for a joint celebration of the culmination of the Silwood project and Spectacle’s eleventh anniversary of filming on the estate. Watch this space!
This week’s workshops will take place as per usual on Tuesday 22nd March, with location filming around the estate from 4.00 to 6.00 and screenings from 6.30 to 8.00 PM at the Silverlock Centre. Newcomers are welcome, and we look forward to seeing you there
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