“We’re artistic creatures whether we like it or not. At its very least community arts can be therapeutic and at its best it can be life-changing”.
Tony Hardie, Chief Executive of St. Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green, London, believes passionately in the role that art can play in supporting, transforming, and connecting communities.
St. Margaret’s House was founded in 1889 as part of the Settlement Movement – a turn-of-the-century reformist movement aimed at alleviating poverty and bringing people from different economic and social backgrounds together.
“People came to the east end to look at the poor people in the slums” Tony said. “Then, some people decided they should do something to support the poor people in the slums”
Over the years, St Margaret’s House has taken many forms, responding to the huge demographic, socio-economic changes that have taken place in London’s East End in this time.
Under Tony’s tenure, there has been an increased focus on creativity as a vehicle to bring people together, improve wellbeing, and ignite social change. Today, St. Margaret’s House provides a wide array of services and spaces for local charities, community groups, and artists.
They have particularly close links with the local Bangladeshi Parents and Carers Association (BPCA). BPCA are not only tenants of St. Margaret’s House but also partners (and friends). One exciting recent collaboration has been Ghyama arts. Working alongside Spare Tyre Theatre Company, they have been teaching circus skills to disabled adults in the borough of Tower Hamlets – both in-person and online during the pandemic. This project has had a truly life-changing impact on the participants, as Shamimara Choudhury, CEO of BPCA explained: “I think their confidence level has grown so much where they used to be shy and hesitant to open up and talk to people – I think they feel free and welcome people.”
Another great example of their work is ‘create space’. In this small old shop-front, St. Margaret’s House runs an incredible number of community workshops and events, from beading to wreath making, all aimed at bringing people from across the community together to learn new skills and build friendships. As Maureen, one of the regular participants explained, “I started off at art in here first and then finding out there’s a beading class and so I thought I’d come to do that and I’ve never looked back”.
St. Margaret’s House also runs a thriving vegan café, which doubles as a gallery and performance space. Here they provide opportunities for young and upcoming curators and artists to hone their craft, and showcase their work.
Although St Margaret’s House has a long and proud history, the team are acutely aware of the need to keep innovating to keep up with the changing needs of their local community.
“I think the potential of this place is amazing,” Stuart Cox, the Arts and Wellbeing Director at St Margaret’s House told us. “St. Margaret’s has existed in some form since the late 1800s and yet I think there is something that is very youthful about what is going on here and very, very new”.
This February, Locality, a membership organisation for local community groups, is putting its spotlight on St. Margaret’s House.
You can watch a short film made by Locality about St Margaret’s House below:
And get involved with their social media takeover here on 23.02.22 here.