Creative People: John Lewis
Why is it important to plan for cultural infrastructure?
When Thamesmead was first built more than 50 years ago culture was at the centre of its creation. I think over the decades this has slipped and so since Peabody took over stewardship of the town in 2014 we have been determined to bring culture back to the fore. We have five overarching goals for Thamesmead with Culture and Heritage as one of them, it sets out our ambition to make culture part of everyday life and at the heart of everything we do here.
Can you tell us a bit about what’s happening in Thamesmead?
This summer we’ll be holding the annual Thamesmead Festival which has grown to a two-month event and will bring a host of cultural activity to the town as well as providing a showcase for local artists, musicians and performers. Last year we launched the Community Archive which is about capturing the story of Thamesmead through the memories, photos and stories of residents. We are also working with partners like Bow Arts and the Tate Modern to bring a richer diversity of cultural activity to the town.
Can you effectively plan for culture?
You can’t be prescriptive, it’s about a mixed economy whereby we organise and stage some events ourselves but also create an environment where culture can thrive.
This can be achieved through initiatives such as offering Peabody's Information Hub in the town as an exhibition space or our community fund where the money we receive for facilitating filming in Thamesmead is distributed to local artists and community groups in the form of grants. It is also about planning for a sustainable cultural infrastructure and in that, we need to respond to local communities and connect people to the London economy.
We are therefore looking at our industrial and commercial property plans with a view to encouraging creative and cultural industries to settle in Thamesmead. London’s New Town, Thamesmead, is open for business and culture.
Are developers better understanding of the value of culture?
Building a place is more than bricks and mortar, it’s about creating a community and culture has a critical role to play in achieving this, I think that’s something developers are increasingly aware of.
As part of our regeneration of Thamesmead we are bringing neglected spaces, such as the Lakeside centre, back into use to provide workspaces for artists. We're also building a new library that will have space for cultural activities. These will both help provide a sense of place and make Thamesmead a more enjoyable and interesting place for residents.
How do you see London’s cultural infrastructure in 20 years?
There’s a danger in getting preoccupied with high profile, big ticket cultural projects. I think culture has the most effective and lasting impact on Londoners’ lives when it is led and embraced by communities. That’s what I’d like to see in Thamesmead; a truly culturally engaged community creating and enjoying experiences that reflect and enrich lives.