Category Archives: Children

The story so far …

Visit our new page of Exhibitions and Talks and don’t forget that ‘Mike Gray – In Black and White’ photography exhibition is at Chats Palace bar throughout the Summer 2015 as well as the ‘Photographer Unknown’ next door in Chats gallery. Have a lovely Summer!

Mike Gray - In Black and White


Joan Littlewood and Stratford Fair

Adapted from ‘Community Art an Anthropological Perspective’ by Kate Crehan, 2011 

Free Form Arts Trust, which was instrumental in the foundation of Chats Palace (1976) and in starting the annual Hackney Marsh Fun Festival (1974 – 1995), had previously organised their first neighbourhood festival on the Keir Hardie Estate in Canning Town in 1972. It was a seven-week programme of different live arts events, many with a strong participatory component.

One visitor to the Festival was Joan Littlewood, one of the most influential figures in postwar British theatre. Working in an old Victorian theatre located in the East End rather than the West End home of middle-class theatre, her productions in the 1960s, as British playwright David Edgar put it in 2006, ‘popularised a high-energy, rough and ready, Anglicised version of Brecht’s suddenly influential political theatre’.

In the early 1970s, Stratford, the home of Littlewood’s Theatre Royal, was a somewhat desolate place, supposedly in the process of being ‘developed’. The local school had just closed, and there were many empty sites, left vacant by developers in the hope of future profits. Despite Littlewood’s declared aim of creating a ‘people’s theatre’ and while her theatre may have been more successful at attracting working-class audiences than traditional West End theatres, to many local people it was still essentially an outpost of alien middle-class culture.

Well aware of this problem, Littlewood was excited when she visited the 1972 Canning Town Fun Festival – like the Free Form artists, she had a strong commitment to making art, in her case theatre, that could reach working-class people. She suggested that  Free Form organised a programme of art events, to be called ‘Stratford Fair’, intended to bring her theatre out of its box and into the local community and to get the local community into the theatre. The story of this collaboration reveals something of the difficulty of bridging the gulf between high art and popular culture.

Martin Goodrich, co-founder of the Free Form Arts Trust, remembers:

To celebrate Joan Littlewood’s 100th birthday anniversary, Chats Palace is taking part in the nationwide weekend of Fun Palaces on Saturday October 4, 10-4pm. Come and meet the Fragile Archivists to watch a wide range of historical and modern footage, pick up material about the origins of Chats Palace and much more.

Slides from the attic – 1980s Hackney

A small selection of 35mm transparencies showing the Hackney Marsh Fun Festival and other outdoor community events and parades in the Homerton, Chatsworth Road and Clapton area, from the early early 1980’s.

The photos feature some banners and floats from longstanding community projects still operating today such as the Homerton Grove Adventure Playground and The Pedro Club.

Also fleeting glimpses of a couple of public houses now long gone, The Golden Shoe and The Clapton Park Tavern.

The original Chatsworth Road market can be seen in full operation. Look out for Carringtons bakery where the original ovens were literally underneath Chatsworth Road and the shop assistant sported the perfect jet black 1960’s beehive hairdo.

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Summer playschemes 1980 and 2012

Since the early days of Chats Palace, annual summer playschemes were popular with the local community (run in conjunction with the Homerton Grove Adventure Playground). Over 30 years later, Lauren Mills, a Homerton born and bred choreographer and founder of BYB arts organisation, coordinates a team of volunteers to run an affordable playscheme at Chats Palace throughout the summer holidays.

© Chats Palace

© Chats Palace

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