The People Make Poplar

Working with local people to reimagine their neighbourhood


Artist Residency


Sirlute, Making Space Aberfeldy



What if every neighbourhood had a space for people to share stories and imagine futures?

The ability to imagine different futures is at the heart of democracy, social action and making change. Only once we can envision alternatives to the status quo can we take action to bring them to life. We wanted to explore - what can a physical space look like for a neighbourhood to collectively imagine its futures?

So we took over a local shop front in Poplar, London for 6 weeks to trial our imagination HQ. We wanted to engage people of all generations in exploring both the history and possible futures of the local area.

We led young people to start intergenerational conversions about the history of Poplar

To work with young people you normally need a partner, and we found Sirlute. Working just down the road, Sirlute are a creative charity that delivers free creative learning, mentoring and training to young people from under-resourced backgrounds. In weekend workshops we got these young people playing games, drawing, laughing and chating about the future.

We also get them taking to the streets with phone cameras and microphones to interview the elder generation about their memories of Poplar. Many of them had never talked to people on the street, never filmed an interview or never thought about the history of their area - so we threw them in the deep end. From Pie-and-Eel shop owners to folks in the local pub we heard a rich diversity of stories and opinions about the history of Poplar.

An interactive exhibition to tell new stories for the neighbourhood

In the final week of the residency we staged an interactive exhibition for local people to experience stories from Poplar’s past, and to imagine how it might be different in the future. The exhibition blended an ambient soundscape of local people’s memories of Poplar with a photo diary documenting the young people’s research approach.

On a central table visitors were invited to make collages, play with futures dream catchers, and to tell creative stories about what the borough might look like in the future. By connecting across young and old, using multiple senses, and giving time for deep reflection, the residency explored new approaches to surfacing, sharing and strengthening community narratives of place.

The project was part of a larger learning community called Tomorrowlands: a group of artists and researchers exploring how to create spaces for imagination with young people in local communities. The vision of the group is to build and share adaptable methods that allow communities across the globe to take over shops, walls, cafes, galleries and other spaces to imagine the future. We are currently working with the Tomorrowlands community on a toolkit for imagining futures with young people.

With support from

The Mayor of London's Culture Fund

NGFP Impact awards

Thanks to

Making Space Aberfeldy

Fitzrovia Noir

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