What 1Love Com­mu­nity is do­ing on the Isle

Natalie Dins­more ex­plains how 1Love Com­mu­nity is fill­ing a va­cant row of shops on the Isle of Dogs with pro­jects to ben­e­fit res­i­dents and Whar­fers

The Wharf - - News - Florence Der­rick Go to 1lovecom­mu­nity.org.uk

Less than a 20-minute walk from Ca­nary Wharf lies Pep­per Street. It is lined with empty, brick shop fronts. All is quiet on an av­er­age week­day morn­ing, ex­cept for the buzz of what’s to come over the next few weeks and months. A so­cial ini­tia­tive called 1Love Com­mu­nity has set up here un­til at least 2020, with the aim of trans­form­ing the dis­used street into a strip of shops, events spa­ces and or­gan­i­sa­tions – all with the aim of en­rich­ing the lo­cal com­mu­nity, boost­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and creat­ing links be­tween the Ca­nary Wharf es­tate and the sur­round­ing area.

Founder Jay Mtonga launched the ini­tia­tive in 2012 with a Brick Lane-based project called No­madic Com­mu­nity Gar­dens, which re­gen­er­ated an aban­doned piece of land, de­liv­er­ing a com­mu­nal gar­den for lo­cal peo­ple to grow food, cre­ate art and make con­nec­tions in.

“He was ac­tu­ally home­less at the time,” said 1Love Com­mu­nity project man­ager Natalie Dins­more. “But prior to that he’d worked for Bank of Amer­ica in Ca­nary Wharf.

“He had gone through some things in his per­sonal life and ended up liv­ing in a hos­tel.

“He came across the derelict piece of land and de­cided he would speak to the de­vel­oper about creat­ing an out­door space that could be utilised by the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

Hav­ing grown up in south Lon­don and worked in cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ments, old friends Jay and Natalie were per­fectly placed to run a project on the Isle of Dogs – an area marked equally by fast, cor­po­rate devel­op­ment and a long his­tory of com­mu­nity.

But it wasn’t un­til Jay had found the Pep­per Street site that Natalie got in­volved.

“I’ve lived in Spain for the last 10 years, work­ing in re­cruit­ment and real es­tate, and was on a break from work, which you can do eas­ily there,” she said. “When there was a whiff of get­ting a space here, he called me and said: ‘Can you help me set up this project?’”

It was thanks to the rep­u­ta­tion es­tab­lished by Jay’s Brick Lane project that the pair man­aged to se­cure the build­ings.

“No­madic Com­mu­nity Gar­dens was the kick­starter for the con­cept of mean­while spa­ces,” Natalie said. “That is, tak­ing them on and util­is­ing them in the ges­ta­tion pe­riod where the prop­erty de­vel­op­ers are just wait­ing for plan­ning per­mis­sion.”

Cur­rently, 1Love Com­mu­nity runs an up­cy­cled and se­cond­hand fur­ni­ture shop on Pep­per Street, which helps to fund com­mu­nity-minded start-ups and or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing a ve­gan pop-up shop and chil­dren’s work­shops, ei­ther free or at a far cheaper cost than stan­dard mar­ket rates.

“We’re very proud to say that we’ve been self-funded up un­til this point,” said Natalie. “While we get fund­ing to run spe­cific pro­grammes, the fur­ni­ture busi­ness has al­lowed us to sus­tain our­selves and we re­ceive a do­na­tion from the prop­erty de­vel­op­ers each month.

“We work com­pletely dif­fer­ently to most other or­gan­i­sa­tions. We be­lieve that if there’s some­thing you want to do, then you need to find the re­sources to do that.

“Jay and I have worked since we were 15 and when I was told at 17, ‘You can’t have a car be­cause you haven’t got the money’, I did what I had to do to get it.

“It’s been a sim­i­lar sce­nario get­ting to here. It’s been to our detri­ment at times – with­out a big in­jec­tion of fund­ing, it makes it more dif­fi­cult to af­fect a wider range of peo­ple.

“But we haven’t wanted to have a handout men­tal­ity. A lot of or­gan­i­sa­tions we’ve en­coun­tered rely on fund­ing and when that gets taken away, the whole project falls apart. And the irony is, we’re now hous­ing those same or­gan­i­sa­tions that’s hap­pened to. But with ev­ery­body putting a bit into the pot, more or­gan­i­sa­tions can do their work here.”

What kinds of pro­jects are due to roll out in Pep­per Street?

“Our re­mit is very much that they have to ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity,” Natalie said. “We’ve al­ready got three or four start-ups oc­cu­py­ing the space for free, to al­low them to ex­pand with­out the pres­sure of rent, in a good lo­ca­tion that is ac­ces­si­ble for get­ting new clients.

“There’s an or­gan­i­sa­tion called Mar­tial Fi­nesse, a mixed mar­tial arts gym for kids, that’s here for free for six months. 1Love Com­mu­nity is giv­ing them £9,000 to add to their on­line crowd­fun­der.

“An­other one I’m re­ally ex­cited about is the bike work­shop. We en­gage with a lot of young peo­ple and there are re­ally high rates of bike theft in this area, and we’re in an in­ter­est­ing po­si­tion – meet­ing the peo­ple hav­ing their bikes stolen but also meet­ing the young peo­ple who are steal­ing them. A lot of them are be­ing tar­nished with these hor­ri­ble la­bels but they re­ally are not bad kids. We’ve found they are ac­tu­ally steal­ing bikes be­cause they are tak­ing the parts for their own bikes, or to fix a friend’s or a cousin’s bike.

“So we said, if we give you a space and the means to be able to fix those bikes and get those parts le­git­i­mately, then would you be up for do­ing it here? “And of course they were. “Then, in Fe­bru­ary 2019 we’re host­ing a pro­gramme from a bril­liant or­gan­i­sa­tion called the Univer­sity of Hard Knocks that puts to­gether ac­cred­ited cour­ses in the me­dia world – dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, so­cial me­dia, mu­sic, graphic de­sign.

“They tar­get peo­ple who are out of work. It is aimed at over-25s, get­ting them back into em­ploy­ment in the me­dia world be­cause there’s a real lack of cre­ative train­ing for peo­ple who are out­side of col­lege or main­stream univer­sity. It’s a lot eas­ier to get free­lance work if you have this kind of qual­i­fi­ca­tion, so you don’t have to rely on the job cen­tre to get you an in­ter­view.”

An­other part of the 1Love Com­muity ethos is ad­dress­ing the dis­con­nect be­tween the Isle of Dogs’ res­i­dents and the com­mer­cial and fi­nan­cial cen­tre on its doorstep.

“Be­tween Ca­nary Wharf and the more res­i­den­tial area of the Isle of Dogs, there’s this huge dis­con­nect be­tween the is­lan­ders – the orig­i­nal com­mu­nity that’s been here since be­fore the DLR came in – and Ca­nary Wharf, which has been stuck in the mid­dle of it with­out a huge amount of con­sid­er­a­tion for the com­mu­nity that lived there prior to its ex­is­tence,” said Natalie.

“There’s a sense Ca­nary Wharf isn’t for them. They’re very much iso­lated de­spite it be­ing a stone’s throw away. We want to in­cor­po­rate com­pa­nies and or­gan­i­sa­tions to help ad­dress that gap.

“Our fur­ni­ture up­cy­cling work­shops do that a treat, be­cause it doesn’t mat­ter what de­mo­graphic you’re from, if you’re into up­cy­cling fur­ni­ture you can all get to­gether. That fur­ni­ture is ei­ther then re-do­nated to peo­ple in very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions or we sell it at low cost to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

“A cou­ple of times a month, cor­po­rate or­gan­i­sa­tions come down to the space, we give them old fur­ni­ture and we teach them how to fix it up. There’s the po­ten­tial for a huge amount of crossover be­tween those de­mo­graph­ics – it’s just about find­ing things that are non-de­mo­graph­i­cally spe­cific.

“And I’ve seen with my own eyes what hap­pens when peo­ple you never thought would get on are put in a sit­u­a­tion to­gether. It’s like Big Brother. En­ergy meets en­ergy and if you’re a nice per­son, you con­nect, re­gard­less.”

The up­cy­cling project has not only forged un­likely con­nec­tions, but also helped those liv­ing on the bread­line. “There’s a lot of so­cial hous­ing around here. Tower Ham­lets has got one of the high­est poverty rates in Lon­don,” said Natalie. “There’s one case that sticks in my head. We got a call about this young girl, 18 or 19, who had just had a baby. She’d just been put into a baby-mother hos­tel.

“So­cial ser­vices had come over and said, the prop­erty’s not fur­nished so we’re go­ing to take the baby from you. Now.

“We heard that and straight away got her a bed, crib, sofa, kitchen­ware. It was that real slap in the face that there are peo­ple who gen­uinely do not have what they need to be able to set up a home.”

While the lo­cal res­i­dents are, by de­fault, the main bene­fac­tors of 1Love Com­mu­nity’s work, by no means is its work closed off to the wider Lon­don com­mu­nity.

“Yes, if you live in E14 you get free de­liv­ery, and it’s fund­ing and fa­cil­i­tat­ing jobs for lo­cal peo­ple and al­low­ing us to run work­shops and let or­gan­i­sa­tions use spa­ces for free,” said Natalie. “But peo­ple come from dif­fer­ent ar­eas to pur­chase fur­ni­ture. We want peo­ple to visit our project and see what we do.”

It’s that kind of in­ter­ac­tion that Natalie feels could also help re­pair re­la­tions be­tween the sur­round­ing area’s long-stand­ing com­mu­nity and its newer de­vel­op­ments.

“I think there is a re­sent­ment here, but not one that can’t be dealt with,” she said. “Pri­vate de­vel­op­ers buy pre­vi­ously coun­cilowned build­ings and peo­ple are moved out of the area while those build­ings are made into much nicer prop­er­ties, and they can’t af­ford to move back. “That breeds re­sent­ment. “Then there’s the com­plete dis­con­nect be­tween the po­ten­tial work­force from here that could be in Ca­nary Wharf, but isn’t. If you walk from Ca­nary Wharf to here, there’s a sense of com­plete di­vide.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re not against devel­op­ment or change. But there needs to be more of a con­sid­er­a­tion for the process and how much you in­clude lo­cal peo­ple. If you did that, you’d end up with a lot less ag­gra­va­tion and you would get the work­force you needed.”

Armed with the dual in­sight gleaned from their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional back­grounds, Jay and Natalie aim to ex­pand their work to Ne­wham and in­ter­na­tion­ally after 2020.

“At the end of the day, the western world is not set up to lis­ten to a small grass­roots or­gan­i­sa­tion, and that’s ab­so­lutely fine,” she said. “But if Jay and I are able to bridge the gap, be­cause we’re com­fort­able in those cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ments and within these com­mu­ni­ties, then great. We’ve got lo­cal peo­ple jobs in Ca­nary Wharf, be­cause they trust us.

“We didn’t want to have this tra­di­tional com­mu­nity cen­tre feel, which hosts the odd knit­ting club and peo­ple with a higher in­come bracket don’t go near it.

“We want it to be some­thing that ab­so­lutely every­one can en­joy. On a given day we might have a baby bank where peo­ple who need baby items can pick them up for free.

“You won’t get some­one pay­ing £3,000 a month for their prop­erty in Ca­nary Wharf com­ing to that, but they may do­nate. And they might get some­thing from the fur­ni­ture shop, or go to a yoga class.

“It’s just about be­ing smart with what you put out there to bring peo­ple to­gether from all walks of life.

“We all need help to con­nect with our­selves a bit more, to be hu­man and re­late to other peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly now Lon­don is be­ing con­structed to sep­a­rate peo­ple rather than bring them to­gether.

“We’re try­ing to hold onto that last lit­tle bit of com­mu­nity con­nec­tion and make peo­ple un­der­stand that if they’re not ac­tive in keep­ing it go­ing, then it will dis­ap­pear.”

MATT GRAYSON

Project man­ager Natalie Dins­more is work­ing with old friend Jay Mtonga on the 1Love Com­mu­nity ini­tia­tive

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