Supporters speak out for community art space
4th November 2012
By Claire Jones, Economics reporter
A commercial building in east London that has housed squatters for the past 12 years has played a vital role in the cultural life of the local community, according to its supporters.
The 491 Gallery in Leytonstone, previously a derelict factory and storage space, has regularly hosted exhibitions, film screenings, gigs, and life drawing and exercise classes, which local people can attend for free.
“It’s a really well-run community organisation. And it gives something unique to the local area,” said Charlotte Ballard, who has lived in Leytonstone for the past year. “The residents are very welcoming, and I haven’t seen any evidence of violence, or antisocial behaviour.”
Isobel Payne, who lives in nearby Leyton, said: “There’s just so much going on there. It’s a beautifully decorated space and it’s constantly changing.”
Emily Lines, an artist from Leytonstone who used the building for her first exhibition, said: “They were the only ones who were prepared to let me have a solo show. I can’t think of anyone who would have given me that opportunity besides them at that time.”
Gee, a resident of the 491 Gallery who also campaigns for derelict buildings to be reused in a more intelligent way, says squats in disused commercial property often help burgeoning art scenes to flourish. “You kill off underground entertainment if you kill off squatting. Who else is going to give people the space to juggle chainsaws?”
The 491 Gallery is set to close in the new year to make way for residential apartments. But the developers who bought the land, previously owned by Transport for London, have met resistance from members of the local community and have yet to secure planning permission.
“In Hackney there’s loads going on. Here in Leytonstone we just have that one place and it looks like it’s closing. It’s tragic,” said Ms Payne. “For young people round here, it’s one of the few places we’re proud of.”