When I was approached by the Peabody Trust to create a floor mosaic on the theme of Thamesmead, and in particular the Southmere area I was very excited. Thamesmead is my home and the Southmere Lake is where my studio is located so this was my neighbourhood I was being asked to portray.
Thamesmead, a resilient community
Thamesmead is not a well known corner of London, and those outsiders who do know of it tend to judge it harshly, not really seeing past the 1960’s concrete brutalist architecture or even worse some racist distortion of the areas black population.
The large estate in the south east edge of London was built on the Plumstead Marshes which had been used as testing ranges for The Royal Woolwich Arsenal. You know one of those architects dreams of how modern life should be which despite good intentions goes wrong due to neglect, and a government policy of running down social housing until only the most desperate can get a home.
In fact Thamesmead is now a vibrant working class, multi-cultural urban area with large communities of African, Indian and Eastern European decent and a Traveller Roma community which traces it’s heritage back to the early medieval period.
It’s deprivations are real though, with a population well over 40,000 high levels of poverty and unemployment (64% of 16-74 year olds according to ONS 2011) and few of the facilities you would expect from a normal English town of the same size. No cinemas, no galleries, no theatres, few shops and the odd pub. Years of neglect have taken their toll. But the residents are resilient and the green spaces and waterways created by the original planners are a precious lifeline through the area.
Creating a design
The brief was to create a design that reflected the positive view of Thamesmead. For me that means two things, the great green environment and the rich community diversity.
Making the Thamesmead mosaic
The cropped circle shape was formed in response to the specific landscape design. I wanted to convey the environment of waterways, lakes and greenery. The swans pass regularly by my studio door and thamesmead is criss-crossed by a network of green paths that enable walking and cycling away from the traffic. The tower blocks have become an iconic symbol of the estate immortalised in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and more recently in the hit TV series Misfits.
The swirling fabric patterns of the border were my way of representing the diverse communities af the area, a swirling celebration of different cultures portrayed through the various fabric patterns and symbols of each community, rising like the crest of two waves.
Once the design was completed it was drawn up at full scale onto Pure Kraft paper and then reversed. The tough porcelain tiles were then individually cut by hand and placed on the reversed cartoon, stuck down with Pasta Amido.
The completed Thamesmead mosaic
And here it is, newley installed, with a hope for a brighter future for the people of Thamesmead…