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Interviewee: Carole Pluckrose (A)

Date: 6th June 2019

Interviewer: Ian Jones (Q1) Also present is Nikki Shaill (Q2)


Ian Jones (Interviewer): This is an oral history interview with Carole Pluckrose, by Ian Jones on Thursday the 6th of June 2019. This is taking place at The Boathouse in Barking as part of the Thames Festival Trust’s Barking Stink project. So, that’s just a brief summary of what we’re here to do. I’m going to start with the biographical questions first, just to establish a bit about you. Could you tell me your full name and date of birth?

Carole Pluckrose (Interviewee): Yeah, my name’s Carole Ann Pluckrose and my date of birth is the 23rd of November 1957.


Q1: Can you tell me where you were born and brought up?

A: I was born in Bangor in North Wales and when I was six I moved to Tonbridge in Kent, and that’s where I grew up.


Q1: And if you could go on to tell me a bit about your schooling and your family life?

A: Yes, I passed my 11-Plus and went to a girls’ grammar school. I’ve got one sister, Sheelagh and my mum’s a nurse and my dad, who died two years ago, worked for the Ministry of Defence as an engineer. It was a very standard, white, middle class upbringing. I got ten O levels, good grades, quite an elite educational experience because even within the grammar school there was streaming.

Q1: Mmm.

A: And when I think about it now, it’s--, [laughs] it creates a kind of sense of entitlement, I guess. I’m still friends actually, with a whole group of girls that met when we were 11 and we still go away on holiday every year. So--, but yes, quite cossetted I would say, actually. Then I went to university in Exeter because I couldn’t actually do any theatre really while I was at school, in school, because it was academic--,


Q1: So, you weren’t involved in drama when you were at school?

A: Didn’t exist. I had private drama lessons and we did do plays in English, so I did play Willy Lowman in Death Of A Salesman which was quite interesting when I was seventeen, but it, after school type play stuff. Drama was not considered to be something that you should study and the headmistress called me in and said I was wasting my talents when I said I wanted to do drama at university, or go to drama school. And, you know, drama was not popular, so I did a lot of drama outside of school in festivals. There used to be the Tunbridge Wells Festival, Sevenoaks Festival and they were competitive. You’d pay for an entry, my parents would pay X amount of shillings or--, I guess they weren’t shillings in the end, but--, and you would enter public speaking, mime, Greek dancing, all these categories of performance. And I often used to win or at least come second, so I’d get a gold medal or a silver medal.


Q1: And what did you take from your degree course at Exeter?

A: Drama.

Q1: Oh, drama, okay.

A: Hmm.

Q1: From your course, what--,

A: Oh, what did I take--,


Q1: What are the main things you took from that?

A: Oh, politics, diversity, possibility, making your own work, friendship, small group, I would say it’s probably three of the very best years of my life.


Q1: And the period after your degree when you were acting, what are your memories of that?

A: Oh many. I didn’t actually go back for my graduation ceremony because I auditioned for my first job and got accepted into an international physical theatre company called Triple Action, and I spent three years touring internationally. I went to Poland, I worked at some pretty high-powered theatres. I worked with people like John Malkovich and Glenn Close briefly at the beginning of their careers in a theatre called Steppenwolf in Chicago, and--, yeah, so I travelled, played Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses with an amazing monologue at the end of the play which is--,at the end of the book which is--,yeah, that was amazing, we toured that. I mean, I could go on forever about what happened in those three years as well because they were instrumental. A very physical theatre.


Q1: And where were you based?

A: The company was based in Mansfield.


Q1: Okay. And I want to ask you about the transition to coming to work in Barking. What prompted that?

A: So I left Triple Action in 1983 and wanted to start my own company, which a lot of my peers did actually. It was quite common to start theatre companies in those days, I got married and moved to Forest Gate, so started to come east, which I later found out that some of my ancestors on my dad’s side had come from this area.

Q1: Yeah?

A: Even though I grew up in Kent, my dad was a family historian and we--, I discovered that generations and generations of my family had actually lived in Leytonstone and Wanstead, Woodford, this little tiny area that I had suddenly gravitated back towards without knowing that that’s what I was doing.

Q1: So, you had family links to the area without knowing anything about it.

A: I moved in ’83 into a place in Forest Gate, Wanstead flats and theatre company called Arc Theatre with my husband.So, I--, we started a company and we started by selling my husband as a storyteller, we called the project Oliver’s Tales, and we would go on a bus with his guitar over his shoulder, and go into a head teacher’s office and offer to perform a story for them, which we did. We got booked in schools all over, primary schools, and he would go and do improvisational story-making with kids across this area. And that meant we started to come into Barking and Dagenham. And so, we were doing--, we were doing--, we made contact with the English advisor who was called Bess Hare, who worked out of Westbury, The Westbury Centre, which you may know is on Ripple Road, and it was the teacher’s advisory centre, and we literally found her in the phone book and went and met her, and it was brilliant because she--, there was money in those days, there was the National Oracy Project where children were--, where there was money for children to be, you know, trained in speaking and listening, and it was the perfect time and we just got loads of work. And we called ourselves Arc Theatre anyway because I was working simultaneously on a one-woman play which I then--, we took to Edinburgh in ’86, so--, but [Bess Hare 0:10:16] was fantastic in facilitating all this--, money--, I can remember we got £10,000 and we did storytelling all over schools in Barking and Dagenham. And we were like peripatetic effectively, we wanted space where we could go, and she gave us space for free as well in The Westbury Centre. Then we met a guy called [Dennis Fit 0:10:39] who used to sit in splendid isolation at Eastbury Manor House and he was the arts advisor, they had such things as well for the Council, rather than for schools. And I can remember, he sat in this--, in the wall--, a panelled room in the--, in Eastbury, and again we just went and spoke to him and said, ‘Can we move in here?’ And he said, ‘Yes,’ and so we moved in. For no money, we didn’t pay any rent. Into a beautiful room in Eastbury Manor, and the company stayed there from [pause]--, would have been--, oh, we went somewhere else first actually to be fair, we went--, we moved into Southwood For Drama Centre, [inaudible 0:11:29] drama centre first, and then we moved into Eastbury in ’93, and we stayed in Eastbury from ’93 to ’97 I think, yeah, ’97. Then they chucked us out because The National Trust decided to do a huge amount more heritage development there, and they didn’t want just any old--, you know, rough and tumble theatre company. But simultaneously--, well, in ’86--, sorry, I’m going back a bit now, but in ’86 as well as setting up Arc, I created a one-woman solo piece which I’m currently doing now again and that got a Fringe First Award in the Edinburgh Festival, which actually got the company off the ground. So, we then became a resident theatre company in Barking and Dagenham.


Q1: And where did you live at that point?

A: I lived in Harlow, in Essex.


Q1: So, you were commuting in effect?

A: I was commuting.


Q1: And how long did that go on for?

A: Well, I moved into Barking.

Q1: Okay.

A: In 2013.


Q1: Okay. And the focus of Arc’s work was really around the kind of local community, or--,

A: Yeah.


Q1: Was it wider than that?

A: It was wider than that. We had a national profile, but we were resident in the borough here for three years in a row we got significant funding to do community plays, actually we did five community plays. I was really into community plays and the first one--, in Barking, we did performances at the Broadway the in the late nineties.


Q1: So, that’s still the same theatre as the Broadway now?

A: It is, but it was--,

Q1: Yeah, but it’s been refurbished.

A: It was refurbished. we did a play called The Spear Carriers which was commissioned from a playwright called Craig Baxter, --, that was all based on the story of Barking Abbey. And then, another one which was called The Big Bang which is actually about the boiler explosion that happened here.


Q1: Sorry, tell me about the The Big Bang, I’m not aware of that.

A: It’s the boiler explosion--,

Q1: Okay.

A: That happened on this site--,

Q1: Oh, right.

A: In 18--, I think it’s 1898, as far as I can remember. On this site was a boiler that was owned by the Hewett family who were the people that owned the fleet, you know, the fishing fleet that I’m sure you know--,

Q1: Yeah.

A: And was here for 227 fishing smacks on the River, owned by the Hewetts. And the Hewett family are still based here.


Q1: But you were dramatising that were you?

A: We dramatised that. Eleven people were killed. The whole of Fisher Street was impacted by it. I’m sure you know about that history, we made a community play. And it’s something that I feel is timely actually, that I’ve been thinking about wanting to restage but I just haven’t got the funding for it. I’d set The Boathouse up from scratch, managing that and doing my own artistic work, I wanted to direct another community play without significant funding to do it. But I think probably it is something that we should look at applying to The Heritage Lottery Fund for. We just haven’t. It’s a fantastic play.

Q1: It sounds fascinating.


Q1: So, what other themes did Arc focus on in terms of its community productions?

A: We did a site-specific--, the most recent one we did was in 20--, [pause] [sighs] 2010 or 2011, which was called The Marvel Of Muddy End, and we did it on the ground floor in this building It was about property development and indigenous people and how those two things interact. And we transformed the whole of downstairs into a site-specific piece which was a fictionalised version of this street, with all the different houses.

Q1: Fantastic.

A: And I had worked with groups of actors to create homes effectively, everyone brought in furniture and pictures and stuff like that, we had about 70 people in that one, everybody was in their own little house on the street. And it had original music.


Q1: And what period was that? What--, which year did you do this?

A: 2011 .

Q1: ‘Cause I think that would be interesting really.

A: It’s called The Marvel Of Muddy End and we do have local people on the video--,

Q1: Mmm.

A: Many of whom have actually gone on to do other arts work in the borough.


Q1: And did you involve the local people in your productions?

A: Oh, that was what it was about.

Q1: Okay.

A: One of the objectives was also about community cohesion. So, we had a very diverse group and politically very different. But I have always had an absolute passion and commitment to the knowledge that when people do things together in action, they find the commonality of being human. We all need to lend a hand to doing drama together like that--, because not only are they meeting people who--, they’re coming together for a very particular common purpose, they’re also having to engage with character, so they have to put themselves into someone else’s space anyway by playing a character. But by doing that in a community group when you’re among 70 people, means that it’s not just the characters you’re interacting with, importantly it’s also each other.


Q1: So, would you say that there was a kind of social purpose behind it?

A: Totally.

Q1: Right.

A: It becomes a tribe and what you do is you create a sense of belonging.


Q1: So, the play is in the community that you were drawing into your productions. How did that change over the years ‘cause presumably that started to reflect the--,

Q1: Diversity within the borough?

A: Yeah, it did, I would say even early on we did, because from very early on I’ve always been committed to anti-racism, for example, we would be looking to break down barriers in terms of the people that we wanted to attract in those days, Barking was seen as the borough of the lowest aspiration, over this period it has become a place of extraordinary transformation.


Q1: And how were you seen at the time? ‘Cause you must have seemed quite strange to some of the local--, to the local authority or to some of the people who live here. Did they find it all--,

A: How would I be strange?

Q1: Erm--,

A: [Laughs].

Q1: Having an arts venue in the middle of a borough that was--,

A: Yes.

Q1: Not noted for it really.

A: Yes. That is true, and there were very very few arts organisations here.


Q1: And did you feel you were supported?

A: Oh, hugely to start with. In those days councils had money to do things. Arc was core funded by the council to the tune of fifty thousand a year, in its heyday Arc was turning over three quarters of a million pounds, with sponsorships, commercial sponsorships, from HSBC, we created a play--, you know probably the Kick It Out campaign, they got their name from our first play which was called Kicking Out and which we toured all over the country, 600 shows in football clubs and internationally.


Q1: So, at what point did Arc become based in this sort of area?

A: 2008.

Q1: Mmm.

A: In The Malthouse.

Q1: Okay.

A: We moved in 2008, but I was involved with it from the late nineties, and--, as an idea, as a concept, because we were very connected with the borough, they were working to support us to find a new home we worked with the architect--,

Q1: Mmm.

A: To look at how those studios would be for Arc. You see, this is the other thing, Arc was based here and then I left Arc in 2013, and set up The Boathouse, so--,


Q1: So, can you tell me a bit about what it was like to be here in 2008 when Arc moved in?

A: because all of the new developments were going to start happening. Where the car park is now we called The Beach. It was gravelled over and it--, the gates--, there were metal gates to get in with a great big padlock, like a huge padlock that we had a key. And the smell--, to come to what I know this project’s focus is, the smell was horrendous. You know, when the tide was out--,


Q1: Can you describe it?

A: We had a group of people doing some training in here yesterday and a said to me that she used to work at Gascoigne School as a PA, and she said, ‘I--,’ she came up, she said, ,’ she said, ‘do you get the smell here? Because there used to be an awful smell that used to come over to us at Gascoigne.’ And I said ‘No, we don’t actually.’ The smell hasn’t been here for a have not experienced for at least two years I would say.


Q1: Do you know what caused it? I mean, I’m--,

Decades of decaying fish and sewage

Q1: So, it was polluted.

A: So much pollution, and--, although I think there must--, and I’m sure in the research that you’re doing, you’ll come up with more--, I mean, that’s the sort of anecdotal response, I don’t know in complete detail, but we used to say, ‘Oh, my God--,’ you know, we’d actually call it, ‘the River’s up.’ We used to say, ‘Oh, my God, the River’s up,’ so--, and the smell was like manure.

Q1: Oh, right.

A: I thought it was probably raw sewage that had come up from the sewage works, Beckton.


Q1: Is that what local people believed, that it was coming back from the sewage works?

A: Yeah, I think so, but we also had lots of thoughts about what was buried under the River. You know, it’s like all of those years of fishing fleets, was it, you know, the rot--, I was speaking to someone yesterday, I was talking about the rotten smell of, you know, fish for centuries. Was it something to do with that, you know? We’ve had a lot of imagination about--, you know, because there’s the wreck, we’ve got a wreck just here by the café and, you know, it’s got plants growing out of it and it’s very picturesque, we use it a lot on our website and places ‘cause it actually looks like an installation itself.


Q1: And what’s it a wreck of? Do you know? Do you know anything about it?

A: Nobody knows.

Q1: Okay.

A: Well, this is something for people to do a bit of research into, but nobody knows. Nobody I know even know--, it was a boat building area as well, so there was a guy called Joseph Honey who had a boat building--, one the reasons--, it was obvious that I should--, I came up with the name for, you know, calling it The Boathouse.


Q1: So, you watched the area change from 2008.

A: Total transformation.


Q1: Can you just describe that for us?

A: Well, okay, so get in a cab at Barking Station and say, ‘Can you take me to Abbey Road, and can you take me to The Malthouse?’ ‘Sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about, mate.’ Absolutely no idea. ‘You’ll have to give me directions, I’ve never heard of it.’ And that went on--, I would say that’s only stopped recently, the last year or so. It was a road of derelict buildings.

A: So, my impressions--, it feels--, I’ll tell you what it feels like, it’s like having watched a forest or a jungle grow around you where there was nothing. So, the skyline has consistently changed And then gradually, bit by bit, almost impossibly it would seem, these buildings have gone up and all these tower blocks have gone up everywhere and you used to be able to see The Malthouse from the road, there wasn’t--, when we were here in 2008, they weren’t here. None of those flats were here and none of the flats over there were here, it was just straight out onto the road.


Q1: And have the people changed? I mean, I presume the flats have got a completely new community.

A: Well, it’s a real mix of social housing and, there’s a lot of young professionals moving in, and I think this whole question about what is gentrification is really interesting. And, you know, I would say that there are people that--, our project, who are looking at trying to encourage--, , we’ve been trying for a long time to encourage people from the flats to come over, and there are still people over there who don’t even know the River’s here [laughs]. Also, I think because a lot of people are new arrivals and also, economic factors, you know, you know, people are trying to survive and aren’t necessarily wanting necessarily to get involved in stuff. I think also, there are different demographics in this borough that can be perceived--, so this side is actually quite White, if you come over here--, and generally speaking, Abbey Road has got a lot of Eastern Europeans.


Q1: And you’ve got the Gascoigne Estate on your doorstep as well.

A: There’s been massive transformation there. And there is also a feeling I’m very interested in regeneration and the arts, and we work closely with Bold magazine who are the regeneration face – very glossy magazine, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but – of the borough, and they do their annual magazine launch here. It speaks to property developers, it’s outward facing saying to the world, ‘Come and invest here,’ which has been very successful and that’s brilliant, and we’ve got this extraordinary transformation. There’s a young poet, a spoken-word poet, called John Akinde who--, and a young local ffilm company Bluebird Films who just recently had a BBC documentary, a three minute documentary on the BBC, in which he is filmed on the Gascoigne Estate talking about being left behind and watching your home being displaced. And feeling that that’s associated with race too and, you know, images of developers drinking cappuccinos in nice cafés with their laptops. A lot of us are guilty of that.


Q1: It can be very hard being in the middle of that experience.And where have those people gone do you think?

A: People had offers from the council to be relocated, but the sense of community was decimated by it, and I think John’s spoken-word piece, speaks to me at a profound level. there’s gentrification happening and we’re uncomfortable with that as a word because it’s alienating. And how is that schism? How--, you know, so basically what I’ve organised is for him to do a provocation at the next Bold--,


Q1: A provocation?

A: Yeah.


Q1: What do you mean by that?

A: A provocation in theatre terms we might say actually that’s--, it’s like throwing a grenade into something that has settled and saying, actually, you know, what happens when that grenade lands in the middle of this room? ‘How about at your next event, we show this film and we get them there to provoke the developers?’ Because we’re all human beings, it comes back to commonality again, how we connect? It’s all very well to have Section 108 or whatever it is, saying you’ve got to have this, that and the other in terms of provision for--, or your balconies have to be this size, you know, to developers. They do it because that’s what they have to do, [claps], but it’s also--, and they consult of course, but they consult in a particular kind of way and it always feels a little bit like they’re in helicopters looking down at the plans, and they put little, you know, computerised people in places. But there’s no engagement with things, for example like paths of desire, which fascinate me. It’s like, where are the natural places that people’s--,

Q1: Desire lines.

A: Yeah, exactly [claps]. You know, there’s all those things. How do they fit in anywhere? So, I wanted the provocation to be for John who’s also a playwright, to engage with hearts and minds in a way that got that conversation going in perhaps a different direction.


Q1: And just going back to the days of Arc and now with The Boathouse, were people from the Gascoigne involved in that?

A: Yeah.


Q1: Was that one of your targets?

A: Yeah.


Q1: Was that one of your--,

A: We did children’s workshops at very affordable rates, we did holiday workshops.


Q1: So, tell me a bit about The Boathouse.

A:= When Arc was in the building, I had always wanted to develop it more as an arts venue and as a location for community. And so, that’s what I did really in 2014, with the objective of supporting emerging local artists and performers.

Q1: It sounds like quite an interesting partnership with the local developer as well.

A: Rooff Ltd owns the building and, they’ve supported--, effectively as sponsors, what we do here. And we’ve done some wonderful exhibitions and got people started on their there’s a local photographer called Jimmy Lee who we supported to have his first photographic exhibition here. He’d just stopped working on building sites, but had always been a street photographer and we offered him his first exhibition and that attracted David Bailey here, and Jimmy’s career has just gone from strength to strength after that. We’ve had visits from Damien Hirst, you know what I mean,


Q1: Can you tell us a bit about what projects you’ve got coming up here at The Boathouse?

A: I mean, we’ve got a really exciting exhibition coming up in September--,

Q1: Right.

A: And this isn’t from a local artist, ‘cause I don’t want to--, I don’t want us to just be inward looking.

Q1: Not just a purely local community arts--,

A: No, no, I want to bring other people in for the community to enjoy. So, we’ve got this young photographer , Ruby Steele who was shortlisted for Photographer Of The Year in 2018, and she’s doing a photographic exhibition--, called Women On Sofas,


Q1: Which is about homelessness presumably.

A: No, - It’s about women coming out of the domestic environment to an external space, but sitting on a sofa, so there are sofas in--, you know, on estates, there are sofas in country parks with women on them, the exhibition which will be in early November here, because again that’s the other thing we wanted to do with this space, was to have a blank canvas which was transformational. So, I mean, one of my kind of--, one of the theatre directors who I, from a very young age, absolutely was a hero, is a theatre director called Peter Brook, and he wrote--,

A: Called Empty Space, is pretty much the genesis of the idea of having two studios, and therefore allowing people to come in, in all sorts of ways to be creative. And one of the commercial things we do is encourage all sorts of celebrations, private celebrations, because we’ve created a space that that inspires people’s creativity and I’ve been trying to find a language for that, because it’s a hybrid really - they get really excited about the space,


Q1: And how do you see The Boathouse developing in the future?

A: It’s an interesting time politically and there are lots of developments happening artistically around. So, for example, Studio 3 who are literally a five minute walk. They’ve got a lot of money, and they’re developing their space as an art centre. And so that does present some challenges for us how do we find a synergy with that because obviously it’s very good for the borough and--, having all of this access. what’s emerged is that utilising it for--, as a venue, is actually critical and register it for weddings, we need to do that and maximise the quirkiness of the building whilst allowing that effectively to mean that we can support artistic endeavours here, as well as applying for things like HLF funding and other stuff which we could--, ‘cause we’ve also got an HLF grant at the same time, so we’re working with--, you know, in alliance with Thames Festival Trust.


Q1: And you’ve obviously worked in this community over thirty plus years, do you think the local people and the community values theatre and arts projects?

A: I think there’s a transience about it. I think--, mmm, [pause] I think--, yeah, I think the arts are transformational, but I’m not necessarily sure--, I think they get embedded in the psyche. So, they become part of you to the point where it’s almost like you can forget what you did because they’ve transformed something in your heart and in your skills, in your confidence, and they just become part of who you are. And yes, I think people--, people remember projects, so people remember things like being involved in a community play let’s say, and they may then go on-- go. But I do--, my experience is I meet a lot--, I bump into people a lot who’ve got stories to tell, there is one woman, Christina Ford, who was in, the Marvel Of Muddy End who is now an artist in her own right. She , had a residency at the White House, she was a very early member of the community play, she was a young single mum, and she didn’t have muchconfidence, and she performed in the community play, then went on and did a drama degree, and then is now an artist in her own right.


Q1: So, it sounds like a positive--,

A: Many stories like that.

Q1: I mean, a positive impact on people’s lives.

A: Many stories like that. Russell Tovey, actor, was in our first community play The Big Bang.

Q1: Okay.

A: And he was here, a young Dagenham boy.


Q1: And you mentioned that you moved into Barking about five years ago, I think you said. So, whereabouts is that? Is that local to here or--,

A: Yeah, well, it’s behind the station.


Q1: And what’s that experience been like?

A: I love where I live. I think I understand so much more about Barking from living here than I did from being an outsider. And I think I’ve changed a lot of my perceptions of things. I recognise issues that I was making work about. I live on my own, I’ve got my flat, and I’m in a minority. And I’ve got fantastic neighbours, most of them half my age, young families, and I organise things like communal picnics in the gardens. But I understand something about being in a minority in a way that was quite an intellectual thing, even though I had empathy and emotion and strong political views and campaigning approach to life, there is something very different about finding yourself in a minority, having come from a majority group if you like. And I am really appreciative of that because I think how many people get to travel in this particular kind of a way? We had a Gujarati family, meet the family event. I didn’t know that, for example, Sikh families have three or four different events before they get married. Now wwe’re hosting those sorts of events here. I’m fascinated by other people’s stories and lives and, you know, I am so privileged to get insights. But I do not like walking from the station late at night to my flat, because actually there is still some violence in Barking and Dagenham, as there is in many places across London.

Q1: So, it’s a real threat.

A: Yeah.

Q1: Yes.

A: I think it is. Some people get attacked.


Q1: And the kind of massive changes that are happening through development and regeneration in the kind of local area. How do you deal with things about that?

A: Well, I think I’ve kind of answered that in a way--,

Q1: Okay, that’s fine.

A: When I talked about John and what he was saying.

Q1: Mmm.

A: You know, I think there are lots of contradictions.

Q1: I think it was about you living here and it’s impact on you as somebody who lives in the borough, rather than somebody--,

A: Well, that is what I’m saying in a way--,

Q1: Okay.

A: London is a very multi-diverse, integrated society, in the workplace definitely. And I think people have friendships across races, across difference, but what I really notice in Barking is that actually when people go home, they go back into communities. Here in Abbey Road there’s a strong Eastern European community, where I live is predominantly a Muslim community.

Q1: Mmm.

A: In the arts, necessarily because they’ve got their own cultural arts . My next-door-neighbours are really into Indian dance, they go off to East Ham to do Indian dance. I’ve tried hard to encourage them over here, and some of them do come over, we’ve managed to have--, some people have come over from my flats to see what’s available, but a lot of them don’t know much about what goes on here - some don’t know the River exists.

Q1: Get on with their lives.

A: Get on with their lives, you know. I’ve [laughs] tried to talk to some of them about coming and be involved in a show or whatever. It doesn’t speak to some of them,there are lots of festivals in the borough now that people do go to, and they’re very popular, but it’s like you have to meet people where they are before you can actually go on a journey together. So, for me, what I do there is a communal party, like a street party. I organise it and everybody goes out and talks to each and.

Q1: I think that’s probably quite a good place to leave it actually. Nikki may have some things that she would like to ask.

Nikki Shaill Q2: So, yeah, I can’t remember if you said at the beginning, this is Nikki Shaill as well from the Barking Stink project. I just had a question about stories really. It seems that throughout your life there’s a real thread of story-telling, you’re obviously passionate about loving stories, and I’m just interested just to hear maybe any favourite stories that you’ve learnt along the way of this space, of the hist--, you know, stories of The Malthouse, stories of The Boathouse.

A: [Sighs] [pause]--, Mmm, it’s a really very good question [pause]. I’m not sure how to answer it I suppose it’s about--, it is about the fabric of a building and seeing layers, I think. I think I am very privileged because I can imagine it as it has been over the years--, in many different ways, I can still see it, and so I can choose to visit 1997 or 2003, I can time-travel in my mind, sand I find that quite fun, I can be sitting on the terrace and I can see that the people have just arrived to see it, that’s always how it is, it looks as if it has always been like that. How quickly things become as if they’ve always been, which is one of the most wonderful things about history. And I think people--, it’s almost as if people think it--, this is--, there is something solid here. And what I absolutely know there is nothing about life that is really solid. Everything’s changing all the time and we’re moving through it with each other, one way or another, we just happen to be in this moment. And something my dad has always said to me, which I do feel applies to this--, he died two and a half years ago, and he was 87 and he always said to me, ‘You know that we’re all contemporary don’t you? Everyone who is alive at the same time is a contemporary.’ And that gave me a perspective on history that I found so interesting. Iinstead of just thinking about the older generation or, you know, adolescence whatever, suddenly it was like, oh my God, you know, my grandchild is going to know my mum. They are both alive at the same time. I think it is related to how I experience being here in this building, I began to feel like I understood something about ghosts or, you know, the concept of living inside walls, that carry stories. So, the building has--, speaks to me and I know--, I feel like I’m a kind of guardian and that there are many ghosts that have been before, and there will be many ghosts to come. And that’s where this connection thing happens, so probably the last thing I would say in response to this is something to do with connectivity. So, when I was three years old, my grandfather lived in Sidcup, so my dad was--, I met my great-grandmother who would have been born--, we worked out, I think she was 93 and I was three. This is where the contemporary thing comes in. She was born in--, we reckoned in about 1870. I met her once, she was dying, I can remember this little frail old lady with long grey hair, like a sort of dying kind of like bird, and I held her hand. And I can remember it ‘cause I was three, but I can really remember the smell, and the feel.


Q2: Thank you, that’s amazing. My next question was are there any ghosts in this building, but you’ve answered that. And I just wanted to then--, just following on from that, just ask you briefly, you just said about remembering the smell of--, was it--, so, did you say your great-grandmother or grandmother?

A: My great-grandmother.


Q2: Great-grandmother, yeah. Can you describe at all that smell that you remember of holding your great-grandmother’s hand?

A: I’ve got a very very strong sense of smell, in fact I write about that in my solo piece I’m working on at the moment. Talcum powder. Lily-of-the-valley. Urine. And I think there’s a decaying--, you can smell it sometimes when you walk into someone’s house, that’s a really hard, painful human thing to experience, the recognition that we live in human bodies that decay. That doesn’t mean that we don’t transform. I guess for some people that’s a spiritual faith thing and also, you know, on a very basic level, you know, our bodies decay and then they become part of the earth that grows the next thing.


Q2: Thank you for sharing that. One more question if that’s okay from me. Can you imagine what this building might be like in a hundred years?

A: Mmm, lovely question--,


Q2: What it might become?

A: Lovely question I’ve never had that thought before.I mean, I’ve thought about it in ten years maybe but not a hundred [pause]. [Sighs] I need to apply some imagination to that--,

Q2: Well, ten years if that’s easier [laughs], we’ll start with ten years.

A: I think the building will become modular which will mean that this concept of static versus mobility. The technology revolution of the eighties/nineties is as big as the industrial revolution was, and so people think--, people are working, thinking--, AI is developing, you know, these buildings will become smart buildings one way or another, you know, all of the kind of clunky technology will go, and so you might be able to come into this building and decide actually, I want to [clicks fingers] do a radio recording and I’m going to have [clicks fingers] four or five walls. And those--, you know, I’ll use--, those walls will be installed, they’ll be partitioned, you’ll be able to recreate them in spaces. I think it will still have an artistic/creative element to it hopefully, but you really will at a touch of a button be able to, have holographic type interactions with an audience let’s say, these sorts of things are already happening. So, I mean, if it’s arts space which I hope it will--, I hope the legacy will continue to have that cultural emphasis, it will just--, it’ll reach out beyond Barking into somewhere else. Speed worries me because I suppose my brain doesn’t necessarily keep up with it all the time. I worry for intimacy of relationships as well. I took a picture the other day on the tube, and it was a really nice photograph, but everybody’s on their phones which we know as well as connecting people virtually can also isolate them, and I thought--, what I wanted to do was think, right, let’s juxtapose that with a photo from the eighties where everybody would be there with their broadsheet. What becomes the norm? I can remember when I first got my first mobile phone which was ’93, people walking around talking on a phone and suddenly we all became privy to all that personal information, sitting next to people on trains and hearing about their private lives. So, I think it’s a really exciting world and at the same time there’s an issue there around community, isolation, age.


Q2: Thank you. Any more questions from you?

Q1: No, no, I think I’ve covered most of what I wanted to ask about. I hope that wasn’t too painful.

A: No, I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever told that story in that particular way. I think the questions were very helpful.

Q2: Thank you Carole.


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