Imagine: you’re running an international research network and suddenly – a pandemic hits! All international travel is on hold for up to two years! It’s your worst nightmare. You’ve got researchers who are supposed to be flying in from all over the globe for a week-long retreat or training workshop! What can you do?
This was the predicament numerous Universities found themselves in, but they found ways to adapt and continue projects – many turned to Spectacle’s Bespoke Training Workshops to help them creatively solve problems.
The training we will provide is for the researchers focusing on sustainable cities. Researchers will join online from cities around the world including Oxford, Beijing, Bangalore, Cape Town and Medellin.
Spectacle’s training will give these researchers the skills to film with a more professional production quality and edit with an eye for narrative flow. Going forward, this will enable them to make short videos to effectively communicate their research to a larger audience.
Does this sound like the kind of training you or your organisation might benefit from?
Bespoke Training for Academics
When it comes to making videos, the just ‘point and shoot’ method only works if you are extremely lucky. From inaudible audio, to interviewees that clam up as soon as they see a camera, to takes ruined by continuous autofocusing – the pitfalls are innumerable.
When looking to make video, academics have unique needs. They aren’t looking to become documentary filmmakers. They aren’t looking to invest in overly expensive filming equipment. They won’t have a large support crew to help with filming. And the need to make a final project where the medium (and mistakes) don’t distract from the message.
Spectacle is an award-winning independent media company that specialises in documentary, community-led investigative journalism, and participatory media.
We have been leaders in Participatory Video (PV) practice and community engagement for more than thirty years, and offer training and workshops in every aspect of digital filmmaking.
We offer affordable, accessible, and enjoyable film, media, and video training. No prior knowledge needed! Learn what you really need to know to make quality videos with us.
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.
Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe for more information.
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.
Memories of Battersea is a video oral history project run by Spectacle and funded by the Wandsworth Grant Fund. The project gives young adults from Battersea the opportunity to be trained in film-making while producing short films about their neighbourhood, collecting memories from elder Battersea residents, bridging intergenerational gaps and engaging with the history of their borough.
In this video, we meet Mohamed Ali, a local community organisation founder and Battersea resident who immigrated from Somalia with his family in the late 90s to seek a better life away from the on-going Somali civil war.
Mohamed Ali, local Battersea resident and founder of Elays Network.
Mohamed spends his time working in the R & E Centre on St Rule Street in the SW8 area. He started Elays Network to work primarily in youth development and education but as the organisation expanded, they began to involve men and women of all ages in various activities, focusing on building bridges between the migrant communities and the host communities.
Most recently some of the organisation’s women came together to curate an event called Somali Women in the Arts which saw them exhibit their artwork, from paintings to poetry, in the Battersea Power Station.
Somali Women in the Arts exhibition, held at the Battersea Power Station.
He talks about his early experiences adjusting to life in London, the urban development and gentrification in Battersea and its impact on the lower and working class, the establishment of the Somali community within the borough of Wandsworth and how he founded Elays Network. He also relives some key events of how Elays has helped to strengthen and and bring together the Battersea community, as well as suggesting how the migrant and host communities should move forward in becoming a better integrated, accepting and united society.
Spectacle has a long history of establishing and supporting participatory community media workshops and a large number of our productions have adopted participatory video (PV) techniques and ethos, resulting in an excellent track record of high quality, award-winning TV documentaries, short films and powerful campaigning videos. We are happy to inform everyone interested in applying a participatory media approach into their community based projects, that it is now possible to share Spectacle’s experience taking part in our Participatory Video Workshop (PVW).
Spectacle has made extensive use of Participatory Video as a successful strategy to involve communities in production processes, allowing people to produce knowledge about themselves rather than being represented – and often misrepresented – by outsiders.
Recently one of the films that Spectacle produced through participatory techniques has been re-screened on the Pepys Estate: “Poverty and the Media: the tower”. The film shows the way in which local residents have felt misrepresented by the BBC ’s program The Tower: A Tale of Two Cities. The BBC’s program intended to document the transformation of the Lewisham council estate into a chic development and the alleged clash between rich newcomers and poor long term residents. Spectacle, was commissioned by the Rowntree Foundation to develop a participatory video project in the Pepys and other estates in the area: “Poverty and participation in the Media“. At the time the BBC project begun, Spectacle was already organizing video workshops that focused specifically on the way mainstream media (mis)represent poverty. In our film Pepys residents have filmed each other while commenting on the effects the BBC’s program had on their lives. Spectacle’s “Poverty and the media: the Tower” illustrates the advantages of a participatory approach, highlighting the local dynamics in a way that is factually accurate and respectful of people’s feelings, intentions and views on the world they experience.
Following the very positive feedbacks from residents and in order to meet the growing demand from community based researchers to be trained to lead participatory projects, we are happy to inform you that we are now offering a Participatory Video Workshop (PVW). Our PVW is addressed to social workers, NGOs’ and charity organization’s staff that are engaged in community development and empowerment, artists and, in general, anyone who wants to integrate participatory methods in their own projects. Based on our long experience, the PVW will provide you with practical and transferrable knowledge on video techniques, and train you on how to engage your stakeholders in participatory productions.
The PVW is designed as 3 day immersive experience that will allow you to use participatory methods in documentation, evaluation and research. If you and your staff are particularly interested in specific topics, we are happy to bring our workshop to you and tailor it to your specific needs.
Please, find here our workshop description or get in touch for further information.
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.