Hornsey Town Hall and the Forest
by Ryan Lester
I was blessed in the first half of this year to travel for a few months and spend a good time away from the city, trying to find a little perspective. Upon my return in June, I was lucky to find some work for the week. I dragged my ass up to London and plonked myself on the sofas of some good friends (to whom I owe much and more).
I worked two jobs while I was up. The main project was work as a technician for From The Forest Festival, but I also managed to fill up my time with some old friends working at Hornsey Town Hall. The contrast between them as representations of the state of the arts in London seemed too perfect; it was both fresh and exciting, yet hard and reminiscent.
While at university I worked for the lovely boys at the Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre. This crazy building in Crouch End is where I learnt most of the tricks I use today while running events. This grand, beautiful and surprising jewel of a structure has so many accolades to it’s name its a surprise so few people knew about it: the first modernist building in London, the biggest sprung dance floor of its time in all of Europe, and the venue of Queens’ first gig (although they only performed for about 8 people).
However, these triumphs weren’t enough to save it. Like so many other historic buildings all over London, it is being refitted as a luxury hotel. It just so happened, the one week I found work there l was their last week being open. Working as a bartender in London often revolves around the same conversation: people’s favourite haunts being turned in swanky rooms where a night costs more than your monthly rent.
What worries me the most is the part that we, as creatives, seem to play in this process. When the artists and the hipsters move into the area we are that first warning sign of gentrification; that soon the community will leave and the tourist trap will arrive. It is worrying how as people's work acquires more attention, they leave behind where they came from and those around them.
But this was a funny week for me because, at the same time, I was working with a great group of theatre-makers at From the Forest Festival. Jumping from six shows in one venue last year to over fifty shows across four venues this year, this is a swiftly growing festival that focuses on art from Waltham Forest borough. I was working in a great venue in Leytonstone called ‘The Birds,’ which is named for Hitchcock ( a local boy himself), making theatre and working with people who live and were raised here.
The feeling was a welcome lift in comparison to packing up our old favourite town hall. Our small, boots-on-the-ground team just got on with the work, figured out how to make it happen, and, in the end, it did. From The Forest Festival had a perfect difference in attitude to who their audience is and why they are making work in the area. This festival is done with the express intent of enriching the local area, not changing it. It excites me that this event is happening and returning next year with bigger, bolder things. Lets just hope that work like this can continue and thrive, before London becomes just a series of places to stay with nothing to do.