Friday, 28 June 2013

Entrepreneur Kate MacTiernan on Danny Boyle's new film festival Shuffle - and restoring a derelict asylum in Mile End

After falling in love with a disused psychiatric hospital in Mile End, Kate MacTiernan is helping to bring the building back to life, starting with a summer of arts events and a film festival curated by Danny Boyle. She tells Nick Curtis her plans.

Amid the thundering traffic of Mile End Road it's easy to miss the derelict St Clement’s Hospital — but Danny Boyle used to look at it every day. Before he was an internationally acclaimed director of movies, and defined modern Britain in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, he lived in a tower block next to the gauntly imposing Victorian buildings that were, by turns, a workhouse, an infirmary and a mental institution.
This summer Boyle — who still lives locally but no longer in a tower block — will curate Shuffle, a programme of films as part of a wider community arts festival, the St Clement’s Social Club, on the site. The events are being staged under the concept of “meanwhile use”, that brings life to sites slated for development.
Conversion of the hospital buildings into flats, and the building of community homes on the site, begins in early 2014 under a pioneering scheme but the hope is that there will be ongoing cultural activity on the site.
The person who got Boyle involved is Kate MacTiernan, a 28-year-old Australian with boundless energy, sudden convictions and impeccable contacts. Five years ago, travelling in Europe after her architecture degree in Melbourne, she met Rohan Silva, then a special adviser at Downing Street, and decided on five days’ acquaintance to move to London to be with him (they married this year).
A year later, while studying at the Architectural Association, she was introduced by Newsnight’s political editor Allegra Stratton to Maurice (now Lord) Glasman of the community organisation London Citizens, which was eyeing up St Clement’s for an experiment in land re-use.
“I do have a tendency to fall in love with stuff,” says MacTiernan. “And I just fell in love with the building. We came in the winter when it was covered in snow and it felt so dark and mysterious and Victorian.” A security guard showed her a curio: a small theatre with a stage at one end, originally built in the Fifties, where “the patients — we’ve got to call them service users now — held a Christmas pageant each year”. In the late Sixties, the theatre was taken over by two pioneering occupational therapists, Myra Garrett and Holocaust survivor Lotte Tendler, as an everyday social club where artistic endeavour was encouraged as an alternative to the zealous application of electro-convulsive therapy elsewhere on the site. Both women are still alive at 85 and 92. “I was swept away by the stories,” says MacTiernan. “There were lots of actors and poets kept here, and there was a bar at the social club and people from the outside world could come in. It was a very happy place.”
The theatre would become the focus of the festival but first the wider plans for St Clement’s had to be ratified. Over the course of four years (during which MacTiernan worked for an East End architectural practice designing mosques), London Citizens persuaded the Mayor’s office, which has owned the empty hospital since 2005, to donate it to the specially formed East London Community Land Trust (ELCLT), the first of its kind in the UK.
“It’s a new housing model and Boris  Johnson has been very supportive,” says MacTiernan. “We have gone into partnership: us, the developer Linden Homes and the Greater London Authority. The whole of the land will be held in freehold by a foundation, which means ground rents can be invested back into community activities: 250 commercial residential properties will be developed in the listed hospital buildings, and community land trust flats and three-bedroom houses will be built on open ground [making up 10 per cent of the development]. The prices of these are linked to wages rather than market price — they come in at half the cost of a normal house, and when you sell one, you sell it back to the trust. And 25 per cent [of the properties] will be socially rented.”
When London Citizens met local groups — schools, faith groups, housing associations — to drum up support for the ELCLT, they heard the same thing over and over: “Everyone said there’s no heart to Mile End. There are great transport links but nowhere to go. People wanted community space, arts space, nursery space, a place to do and see interesting things.”
MacTiernan came up with the festival as a way to “cleanse the building of its dark history, and bring back the good bits, like the social club” but also to show how cultural use might inform the development in future. For his part, the Mayor says the scheme has “huge potential to breathe new life into a neglected part of the capital, combining quality housing developments with new cultural spaces that will enable ambitious events such as Shuffle to happen”.
The film programme came about almost by happenstance, though. At Christmas, MacTiernan commissioned a huge bow for the front gate from a local sculptor, to celebrate the hospital being brought back to life. “I called it ‘a bow for Bow’, and asked my friend Steve Hilton [David Cameron’s former director of strategy], who worked with Danny on the Olympics, to ask Danny to come and launch it. When he saw the theatre, he clapped his hands and said, ‘We can do something here. Let’s do a film festival’. I said ‘All right, you curate, and I’ll do the rest’. Once Danny’s on board, it opens lots of doors. He is very passionate, very energetic and completely honourable: if he says he will do something, he does it.”
Boyle also donated enough funds to make the theatre functional. Lawyers, security firms and audiovisual suppliers have donated time, expertise or equipment free, and the place is abuzz with guerrilla gardeners and volunteers. MacTiernan has a talent to enthuse.
The St Clement’s Social Club arts festival starts on July 19, with some activities open to the public and others just for local groups. Trendy east London architects MUF will organise an art camp for children with Asperger’s from nearby Phoenix School inside the listed hospital buildings, but the gardens, a bicycle workshop and a cafĂ© built by the homelessness charity Crisis and upcyclers East London Furniture will be open to all.
The public can also come to several events in the theatre, including an evening of “Outsider Poetry” presented by former patients and staff at the hospital, and a drama about mental health staged by local theatre company Eyestrings. Then, from August 8, Shuffle will show not just a selection of Boyle’s own films (Slumdog Millionaire, Shallow Grave and the almost-unseen short Alien Love Triangle) but the likes of Attack the Block, Julien Temple’s London: the Modern Babylon, and short films programmed by former Labour MP Oona King’s husband, Tiberio Santomarco — the couple also live locally.
There will be an outdoor screen as well as the theatre, plus “bars, and dancing to cool bands, for 11 nights”, not to mention the chance to soak up the evocative Dickensian surroundings of the place.
Throughout our conversation I’ve assumed that MacTiernan and Silva, who is now a tech entrepreneur, must also be East End locals, like all of London’s cool kids. She looks a bit shamefaced when I ask. “Ro and I lived in Bethnal Green for three years,” she says. “But we’ve just moved to Clerkenwell, which I love. But this [St Clement’s and the ELCLT] is all about local people and local things. So I feel a bit silly ...”
Shuffle runs at St Clement’s, Mile End Road, E3, August 8-18 (


Friday, 21 June 2013

St Clement's Social Club

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, on the 12th July 2012, signed ‘Mayoral Decision MD1028’, which formally announced that the currently derelict site of St Clements Hospital in Bow, east London, will become the UK’s first ever urban Community Land Trust – a type of community owned housing development.

The event marked the culmination of an 8 year campaign by local residents, who will now work with renowned national housebuilder Galliford Try (‘Linden Homes’) to help restore the historic landmark, and use it to pioneer the capital’s first ever “permanently affordable” homes.

In the interim period until development starts in 2014, St Clements Social Club presents "Shuffle" a local film festival curated by Danny Boyle. We hope you will join us.
It's a beautiful summers day. You walk through the iconic red gates of St Clement's and buy your cinema ticket from the booth to the film being shown at the Sweet Pea Theatre later that day. The smell of the wood-fired pizza oven leads you down the track which opens up to a view of the grand clock tower. You grab a locally brewed beer and sit down in the grasses littered with wild flowers carefully planted by the local park keepers. The site is alive with music and dancing and the chatter of happy voices. You spend the afternoon weaving through a hubub of activites until the sun goes down and you make your way towards the theatre. You settle down to watch your film, a feature carefully selected by local resident Danny Boyle.

Special Survivors Celebration @ St Clements Hospital Social Club - Thursday 25th July 2013, 6.00 pm

Dear Friends,

We can now announce the finalised details for the Outsider Poetry Open Mic event, jointly hosted by the Outsider Poets and ourselves, Friends of East End Loonies (F.E.E.L.). The doors of the Wentworth Stanley Hall will open to the public at 6.00 pm on Thursday the 25th of July 2013. The amazing Jazzman John Clark will be our compere for the night. Please see the attached leaflet. It'd be much appreciated if you could circulate it widely.
Poets, musicians and performers are invited to take up to the stage of the old Social Club, at the St Clements Hospital, in Bow.

We are also calling for anyone that might be willing to share personal memories of times spent at the social club as in or out-patients, or while visiting dear ones kept in the asylum.

The event aims to celebrate and honour Survivors work in finding their own recovering and copying strategies in maintain good mental health, putting emphasis on  the important role creativity covers in this process.

On the evening there will also be the launch of a collection of thoughts and poems dedicated to David Kessel and the influencing person he has been in the local mental health communities: “Ravaged wonderful earth: A collection for David Kessel”.

After its closure eight years ago, many had wished for St Clements Hospital to came back to life in the shape of a saner and modern place for dealing with mental illnesses. Instead the land will undergo a redevelopment were affordable housing will be built. With this, a big chunk of local history is likely to be wiped out.
The Outsider Poetry Open Mic will precede a large programme of events and activities organised by the East London Land Trust (see the SHUFFLE 's programme).
Positive response to the array of events in plan over the Summer is fundamental in order to keep an open gate to the history of St Clements and maintain a strong pillar for the local communities. 

David Kessel expressed concerns in hosting an event dedicated to mental health and allowing alcohol to be sold at the same time.
We are not encouraging you to drink; if you do please drink sensibly.

Please get in touch if you wish to perform. We will be meeting on Monday the 15th of July at our monthly meeting at LARC, 62Fieldgate St, Whitechapel and discuss details and planning of the event.

Wishing you all the best and a fruitful Summer!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

F.E.E.L. meeting Monday 17th June PLUS Celebrating Survivors poetry night on Thursday 25th July

Dear Friends,

Our monthly meeting is taking place tomorrow Monday the 17th of June, 6.30pm at LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel.

We also have another date for you to highlight on your diaries and look forward to.
On Thursday the 25th of July we'll be hosting a special night to commemorate past and present Survivors: this will take place at the Wentworth Stanley Hall in the old St Clements Hospital, Mile End (time to be confirmed, approx 6-7pm).
There will be a showcase of poetry, music and the revival of the "Pageant of Survivor". Please, let us know if you wish to perform or feel free to participate to the open mike. The event is FREE to attend: there will be refreshments and access to a bar area.

We kindly thank the East London Community Land Trust for offering us this unique chance.
St Clements Hospital holds a strong history for the local communities.
Our wish is to turn the night into a pleasant and memorable one.

Looking forward to seeing you!