The renowned Saatchi Gallery is situated in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Just a few miles away the Kensal Estate, site of the shameful Grenfell Fire disaster, is home to SPID Theatre, an organisation specialising in youth theatre on council estates and in community engagement. Although sharing the same Borough these places don’t have the same social equality, as became abundantly clear at the time of the tragedy, and is still apparent in SPID’s ongoing battle to have constantly flooding buildings adequately repaired.
At the Gallery today, SPID partners with Kamitan Arts and their Poetry4Grenfell project in solidarity for Grenfell’s sixth anniversary. Given this background, it’s chilling when we’re told that a door to the room will remain open so the audience is free to exit if they feel the need. The prestige of the venue juxtaposes bitterly with the grim conditions across the Borough. This performance of Our Story of Hope advocates for housing justice, in a profoundly moving presentation including young performers and contributors from the Kensal Estate area.
The afternoon begins with a dramatised talk from Helena Thompson, SPID’s Artistic Director. There’s no set dressing, no attempt to make the room anything more than what it is, where it is. But that’s unimportant. It’s the people that matter in this story; a deeply affecting tale of fire and floods, and a Council’s failure to take responsibility at the expense of residents’ lives. Speaking live but accompanied by recorded voices, Helena gives a clear, emotional depiction of a community that the Council has attempted to divide and conquer, whilst she herself has been made a scapegoat for torturous circumstances. But through positive collaboration the residents have united to battle injustice and find ways to heal through art, all whilst living ‘in the shadow of the tower’.
During the performance it’s difficult at times for her to co-ordinate the spoken words with the recorded interjections. Although inadvertent, this actually enacts precisely SPID’s story, as other people’s voices and opinions abruptly intrude, overlap and talk across. She describes how disruptive influences are overcome with passionate determination, Estate residents becoming “stronger together”.
SPID’s youth work is showcased by several talented young performers reading poems about their experiences on the Estate. They are articulate and empowering, revealing stories of neglect, inherent social racism and mental health issues. It is very touching that by participating in this event these young people are actively giving voice to fellow residents who might normally go unheard because of social injustice. Evocative film, made by other young residents, of the once glorious, now dilapidated Grade II listed building in which they are based gives visibility to the dreadful issues they have had to combat.
The audience is made active, asked to participate by reading aloud, sharing the mantras that are at the core of SPID’s work, as a form of meditation and in solidarity, and the theme of collaboration continues as the space is given over to Emmanuelle Marcel Jabbour of Kandita Arts, another local organisation healing the community through arts. She and fellow participants share from their book ‘Poetry4Grenfell’, with contributions predominantly from the Grenfell effected community. Offering further insight into the human response to such a devastating loss, this also underscores the value of hope and inclusion; of learning from the events of the past and moving on together to create a better tomorrow.
The passion and bravery of both organisations and their intense commitment to offer wellbeing to fellow community members resonates throughout this event. It demonstrates vibrantly how art can be an effective vehicle for change, and offers an emotional, inspiring vision of a future made brighter by collaboration.
Created by SPID Theatre and Kamitan Arts
Artistic Director SPID Theatre: Helena Thompson
Artistic Director Kamitan Arts: Emmanuelle Marcel Jabbour