The sumptuous environs of The Victoria and Albert Museum are within three miles of Grenfell Tower, site of the catastrophic fire, and couldn’t be more different. But today the museum hosts a showcase of work from SPID, a theatre company from that neighbourhood. SPID supports residents who have not only experienced the fire, but still live with the shameful yet ongoing State neglect and negligence that the disaster disclosed. Could there be more of a contrast?
SPID stands for Social Progressive Interconnected Diverse, and this small charity makes it its business to give voice to the invisible community that are routinely let down by the Council’s broken promises. SPID have a mission to champion “social justice as the public face of love” and plan to launch a ‘Season of Social Change’, not only on council estates, but in conjunction with theatres and museums across London. The Estates Voices showcase is a capsule of performance and short films that evocatively demonstrates the essence of their work.
The friendly welcome that greets the arriving audience immediately sets a warm tone of collaboration. Opening with a performed history of the company, SPID’s founder, Helena Thompson, speaks eloquently and honestly about past difficulties and how the community have united to overcome adversity. She highlights the council’s strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ which has been challenged by local people, using creativity to claim their own space for their own voices; asserting the validity of their stories. Art allows them to articulate difficult problems and emotional struggles, creating solidarity through shared understanding. Her poetic, enlightening and inspiring tale clashes with screened images of flooded and neglected Council properties. But the story demonstrates how possibility and success is within us all if we are allowed to reach for it. This is ably demonstrated as we hear how the charity raised an incredible £2.6m to restore its Grade 2* Listed base at Kensal House Community Rooms.
Community spirit envelopes the audience, with some invited to read out words signifying the ethos of SPID. We stand up together, talk to each other, encouraged to give voice, take opportunity and unite in solidarity. It’s moving and empowering; and in actuality a rehearsal for practical activism: do it here and then do it in the outside world.
Buildings and heritage are a visible part of the community’s being, but SPID also gives presence to the voices of residents, as the youth and the older populations of the area come together to document verbatim accounts of local history. The films are made by young residents, simply but with clarity, and the process itself cleverly bonds disparate people, validating their experience and ensuring it is not lost.
Another film, How Does Your Garden Grow?, from SPID’s partner Dare Arts, spotlights the difficulties of caring for older people on the estate. The loss of a youth’s quality of life is starkly underscored using an excellent contemporary soundtrack by South London band The Insomniax. The film carves out a sharp juxtaposition of almost-MTV style with images of harsh social injustice, yet reveals how cultural depth and creativity is possible in unlikely places.
The final piece showcases their youth theatre. Stories We Save is an entertaining compilation of verbatim stories and drama. Clearly enjoying the creative processes, they present stories from the estate in an exercise that gives visibility and respect to people often routinely dismissed as unimportant.
Estate Voices is a fascinating production. It’s informative, and allows the audience to connect actively with the community through performative engagement. Our shared immersive experience brings a depth of social understanding, and as we leave I am a happy evangelist.
This event is now concluded. You can learn more about the work of SPID here.