A new community initiative is aiming to transform Lower Marsh high street in Waterloo into a thriving hub of independent shopping, using the design and manufacturing skills of the general public.
Assemble & Join is a pop-up micro-manufacturing collective that is encouraging local businesses, residents and workers to design and build wooden objects; be it functional furniture or fanciful ornaments. Their initiative is being funded by Lambeth Council as part of its bid to rejuvenate the Lower Marsh area. The collective has renovated a former café at one end of the street in order to house a workshop and large CNC machine (a tool used for cutting multiple complex shapes out of material). Up and running since October 2012, the project culminates with several design-and-make workshops in January 2013.
The finale, at the end of the month, aims to allow locals to enjoy the fruits of their creativity, as the results of these workshops are set to form the basis for a large-scale street artwork.
“Lower Marsh is genuinely a unique street in London because it is so independent” says Assemble & Join’s Theo Adamson. He is also a senior graphic designer at architecture firm GD/hta which runs the project along with social design consultant Tom Tobia and woodworker Christopher Jarratt.
“The whole point of the project is that we’re here for Lower Marsh and the local area and building for their environment,” he says.
The historic street is home to one of London’s traditional markets, as well as an eclectic range of independent shops including a local supermarket that houses an award-winning butchers and deli, several cafés, pubs and vintage shops.
In 2011, it was given a new lease of life after a one-year licence to run the market was granted to Westminster Artisans. The social enterprise company that transformed Pimlico’s Tachbrook St. Market brought in new takeaway food stalls and attracted more visitors to the area.
Assemble & Join aims to amplify the benefits of the newly revamped market by harnessing the creative power of the community and getting workshops to focus on increasing commerce, producing way-finding signs, and improving the local environment and sustainability.
So far, products have included planters for local businesses, wooden Christmas trees made as part of a pre-Christmas campaign to turn Lower Marsh into London’s largest advent calendar, and the shop itself is full of handmade stools.
“Everything we’re trying to make is friction fit or dry joints without glue, nails or screws… it means that people learn these skills and how things may be put together without always having to get the glue or the tape out of the drawer,” says Adamson.
January’s workshop attendees might look forward to building bird boxes and signage designed to lead pedestrians from Waterloo station to Lower Marsh. Adamson explains how things work. “We look at challenges with the market stalls and the local shops and how people are using the street. For example, with the market, there’s lots of food stalls yet there’s zero seating.”
Back in the micro-factory, participants are urged to come up with solutions. “We run a workshop in terms of looking to create designs that address those challenges,” he says. Businesses are just among those that are benefitting from the initiative. Over 150 have attended workshops so far, with a demographic ranging from an over-50s art group and small children with their parents, to middle-aged men who love to tinker, and architects with a design ethic. Feedback from all quarters has been overwhelmingly positive.
Adamson concludes: “A lot of people love the fact that it’s using their hands and getting back to traditional techniques.”
Assemble & Join design-and-make-workshops
12th and 19th January, 2:30 p.m.
How might more local workshops like these, bring communities together and share ideas?