This series explores the history of the radical visual imagery created at the Lenthall Road Workshop in Haggerston between the 1970s – 1990s. These images were made collectively and tell stories of activism, skill sharing and empowerment.
Before the internet and mobile phones, it was difficult for people to make their own media. If you wanted to get your message across to your community, printing posters was one of the most visually effective ways.
Printing however, needed specialist equipment and skills. You could pay a commercial printer to do it for you, but this was expensive and if they did not like your message they could refuse to print it.
Most people also thought that art and creativity was not for everybody, but something for just a few selected people. The Lenthall Road Workshop wanted to help change that by giving affordable access to printing and photographic equipment, and by sharing technical and creative skills so that local groups could learn to create their own images. It was important that this happened in a way that encouraged trust and self-confidence. Art and new technologies could be mysterious and intimidating for beginners of any age.
This was part of the new Community Arts and Media movement across the country, which believed in the power of creativity and ‘do it yourself’ media. People who were not usually listened to could become more confident in expressing themselves, individually and together, so that their voices could be heard.
I can remember a group of men coming in to the workshop. A couple of them were really old school, thought women can’t do anything useful. One man, you could see his fingers moving, he wanted to take over the whole thing. He kept questioning everything I was doing.
So I let him do it and I watched in great pleasure as he got completely mixed up because he didn’t know what I was doing, and why I was doing it. I took over again, and he actually watched me and I got a bit more respect.Barbara Tombs, Lenthall Road Workshop Worker
‘Do It Yourself’
Like other community arts projects of the time, the Lenthall Road Workshop adopted a ‘do it yourself’ approach, providing a space where people could actively participate in screen-printing and photography. They aimed to encourage technical confidence through the classes it offered and skills sharing.
The workshop also ran fabric printing courses. People printed T-shirts to promote causes or fundraising, or produced personal items. In 1986 the workers ran a two-day fabric printing course for ‘Black’ women.
I remember Ova, a women’s music making cooperative. They came in and their logo was a cow jumping over the moon. Lots of those ended up being printed on our clothes, a whole sheet, pillow cases…
It’s that opportunity to be creative and quite spontaneous. That was good fun.Ingrid Pollard, Lenthall Road Workshop Worker
Hackney Girls’ Project
Lenthall Road Workshop supported and worked with hundreds of different groups and individuals. Workers were involved in activism, set up youth projects, taught screen-printing and photography, and promoted countless community initiatives.
Workers organised events that provided opportunities for young women to come together, such as the Hackney Girls’ Project at Centerprise.
I had worked in various youth clubs around the place. Girls didn’t go because they weren’t allowed to, because they were so rough. So we had these evenings where we did things and the girls were allowed out.
It was a really great atmosphere, and they loved it. They loved learning stuff. We got in women film makers…there were video-making workshops.
We had electricians. The practical stuff was really important because people didn’t have any money, so it was really important to know how to fix things.Chia Moan, Lenthall Road Workshop Worker
Content for this blog has been created in collaboration with former Lenthall Road Workshop workers: Claudette Johnson, Ingrid Pollard, Nicole Superville, Barbara Tombs, Rebecca Wilson with Jess Baines of See Red.
It featured in the exhibition ‘Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s–1990s’ at Hackney Museum 14 May – 31 August 2019.