As a former resident of Loughborough Junction (think of it as Brixton’s less glamorous neighbour) I was sufficiently intrigued by the Brixton Remakery project to pay it a visit on one of their regular Thursday social nights.
Basically the project is to convert an abandoned underground car park into a space for recycling enterprises, where they can form a community and share a presence.
Hannah, one of the co-founders (below left, with a friend) explained how the team had turned this derelict underground car park into what is now a friendly and promising space which appears to be bustling its way to an Autumn launch.
I took the chance to give Hannah my changemaker’s interview:
What’s your background, and what made you decide to set out on your mission?
My parents were environmentalists and social justice campaigners, so I grew up with a strong sense that major change in our society’s whole way of life was required. I also felt that constantly protesting against problems depleted my parents’ energy, and I yearned for an approach that was about creating a life-sustaining culture rather than battling a deadly one. So I decided to study Eco Design at university (Goldsmiths) and then co-founded a small organisation called [re]design that showcased design for sustainability through exhibitions and events. But I became frustrated by the limitations of the design world as a context for action – and then I encountered the Transition network, which offered a framework for change towards a sustainable future on a community level. So I dedicated my energy to Transition Town Brixton and started the Remakery as a space for making, mending, learning and inventing, using waste as the raw materials.
Can you describe a couple of high and low points on the journey?
The obvious high points are the high profile ones: at [re]design we partnered with organisations like London Design Festival and the Southbank Centre to give eco design public visibility, and organised an exhibition with the British Council about design and climate change that was seen by 300,000 people across China in 2007-8. More recently, the Remakery was awarded £100,000 through Lambeth Council’s “Your Choice” public vote in 2010, won the Design Open Mic competition at Architecture for Humanity’s global conference in 2012, and was profiled on Al Jazeera Earthrise last week. But the real high points often go unreported – it might be a little shift in perspective in conversation with someone, making something possible that was impossible before. The lows tend to result from over-stretching my capacity in some way – like attracting lots of attention to the Remakery before it was ready to deliver what I’d led people to expect – so I was running to stand still responding to all the enquiries and interest, rather than being able to get on with actually starting up the project.
Name someone who changed the path you were on?
Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition network, changed my direction when I saw him speak at a conference called “Be the Change” in 2007. He talked about Transition Town Totnes and their early experiments with imagining a low-energy local future and taking steps to implement it. It was basically what I’d been looking for since childhood, an environmentalism that was working towards the positive rather than fighting the negative. I’d just moved to Brixton and, what do you know, I met someone in the audience who was involved in Transition Town Brixton. So a little while after that, I went to a TTB meeting – a key step in my shift from working in the design world to working in my local community.
Where have you got to now? How far have you achieved your initial goals?
The Remakery is a couple of months away from completing our building work (converting a 1000 sq m, formerly derelict garage block into a shared workspace for re-use, repair and upcycling). It’s been nearly 4 years since the concept was first put in writing – since then we’ve found the space, raised the funds, worked with architects, got planning permission, and 14 months ago started construction. Back when I wrote the proposal in late 2009 I thought it would be up and running within a year! I’ll put that down to inexperience and the sort of optimism that may be necessary to begin anything like this. On the bright side, we now have a great team with skills ranging from building and landscaping to accountancy and project management – together we can achieve what I on my own could only imagine – and most of them are inspired enough by the project that they give their time as volunteers. The whole process has been an amazing (and humbling) learning curve for me and has made me appreciate the planning,resources and consistent focus required to turn a vision into reality.
What’s next? And why?
I’m now 6 months into my permaculture diploma (a 2-year, self-directed course consisting of 10 practical projects – some garden-based, some Remakery-based, and some focusing on aspects of my own lifestyle). Permaculture is an approach to design that’s about creating in collaboration with natural systems. I plan to start teaching permaculture and use its principles to guide others like me who are innovating in the context of community and business. I’ve already taught courses for “Active Citizens” (local activists) and the “Expanded Designer” (a unit for students at the University of the Arts London to learn about applying creativity in society, beyond the traditional contexts of art and design). But I see permaculture as a key framework, partly because Rob Hopkins started out as a permaculture teacher and the Transition movement is rooted in its principles; also because it takes me back to some of the insightful “systems thinking” concepts I learned during my Eco Design degree but haven’t really applied since then. In addition, I’ve recently trained to teach women “the art of Feminine Presence”, a set of body-awareness, movement and meditation practices I learned myself a few years ago, which have been hugely helpful in feeling more comfortable being myself and staying alert and creative amidst changes and challenges. I’ve set up a project called Changing Woman to teach these techniques to other women.
Find out more about the Brixton Remakery at http://remakery.org/