Throughout the year long project Making for Change: Waltham Forest, its extensive programme facilitated an enriching experience and positive impact for all involved.
It was activated as a partnership between London College of Fashion (LCF) and London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF) for London Borough of Culture 2019 and the Great Place scheme. As I have now spent some time evaluating the outcomes of the project, whilst planning its next steps – I wanted to share how, through five key areas, the project provided the means for multiple kinds of development within the community.
Through participation in the Collaborative Unit ‘Activating Change’, LCF students nurtured an activist mindset – confirmed by the GenGreen team being selected as a finalist in the Green Gown Awards 2019. Also young students from Waltham Forest-based schools expanded their awareness of sustainable fashion and experience in craftivism.
Three researchers in residence were given the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of textile manufacturing and enhanced their awareness of sustainability, to include the economic, cultural, social, and environmental implications of any sustainable changes. Documented via three short films, the residencies were hosted by Cactus Leather, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers and Wagland Textiles.
Working with the local community enabled an increased awareness of the contribution of fashion design towards sustainability and social innovation, equipping the community with a better understanding of more sustainable ways to approach fashion, within the borough.
In particular, I Wanna be me, I Wanna be (E)U demonstrated fashion’s activist and environmentalist agenda within a Brexit context, and the symposia we organised shed a light on how fashion can contribute to shaping better lives. Furthermore, community members participating in the Art for the Environment Residency gained experience in using fashion to express their personal identities and cultural diversities, within the context of climate emergency.
Empowerment and Skills Development
Involving students from local schools in the ‘Innovation Challenge’ gave an opportunity for them to develop skills in presenting, drawing, computing and designing. Students with special needs from Belmont Park School gained making skills, enhanced their self-confidence and, over time, improved their behaviour.
The research residencies encouraged the manufacturers to gain a stronger voice in activating positive change in the fashion industry. In particular, Stephen Jones, the last remaining clicking press toolmaker in London, felt uplifted upon knowing people were interested in his craft.
Through a series of co-making workshops and the ‘Forest Coats’ programme, members of the local community gained skills in creative repair, natural dying, zero-waste pattern cutting, embroidery, and garment construction. Having built capabilities, people felt empowered, more hopeful and this, in turn, enhanced their self-confidence.
The journey of empowerment was particularly evident in one young lady who improved her skills and confidence exponentially within just a few months, through engagement in the ‘Making for Change: Waltham Forest’ project activities. After attending the co-making workshops delivered at Forest Recycling Project, she delivered her own workshop within the familiar environment of the social enterprise and was subsequently hired by me to facilitate workshops with hundreds of people at the Walthamstow Garden Party. She then went on to create and showcase her own artworks as part of the Art for the Environment exhibition.
Through participation in the educational workshops we delivered in Waltham Forest-based schools, students gained an understanding of the wide range of careers available in the fashion industry.
Three women participating in the ‘Forest Coats’ project gained employment: two as technicians at LCF, and one was hired by sustainable fashion brand JOA. This achievement had significant opportunities for them to further gain self-confidence, and to create their own futures.
We also supported LCF alumni throughout the project by hiring them for delivering workshops, exhibition invigilation and photoshoots amongst other activities. This had particular impact upon 3 LCF alumni, who have established their sustainable fashion brand JOA in one of the Arbeit Studios Leyton Green. Now having embedded their lives in Waltham Forest’s community, their business contributes to the commercial sector of the borough. Furthermore, from their involvement in the ‘Forest Coats’ project, they decided to switch their business model into that of a community interest company, making long-term plans to continue delivering creative workshops for the local community.
Community engagement ran throughout the project with over 1,550 participants engaged throughout the year – from LCF staff and students, to Waltham Forest residents, and volunteers through the ‘Legends of the Forest’ and ‘Future Creatives’ programmes. The project participants gained social agency and became more connected with fellow community members; some people expressed also to have felt less isolated upon participation in the project’s activities.
‘Forest Coats’ was particularly powerful, as it offered a safe space away from the everyday-life challenges for women to engage in making activities; supporting women and their wellbeing.
Prior to the College’s move to east London in 2022, the community has been able to engage with the work of LCF through a number of open-to-all exhibitions and symposia, which contributed to empowering and motivating the participants to showcase their work.
Networking and Partnership Building
Through the project, we piloted a model for long-lasting collaboration across departments at LBWF and LCF, and built a network of partner organisations across the borough. We have established a core partnership with Forest Recycling Project, which hosted a series of co-making workshops and further iterations of ‘Forest Coats’.
A partnership plan was built between LBWF, LCF and Fashion District outlining the vision for a thriving fashion industry and setting out work areas and outcomes to be achieved in order to build the legacy of the London Borough of Culture 2019 and in light of the College’s move to east London.
Another core partnership was established between LBWF and Arbeit Studios, which led to the transformation of a disused supermarket space into the very first fashion hub of the Fashion District. This is one of the tangible legacies activated through the project.
On a more personal note, the project reinforced my activist role driven by the vision to challenge the unbalanced status quo and create counter-narratives towards sustainability in fashion. The project has also strengthened my values, which are to revitalise cultural heritage, fight social inequalities, make local economies flourish, and enhance environmental stewardship. It also contributed to demonstrating the true nature of working as a design researcher to enable change through public and institutional participation – with its challenges and opportunities. The findings from this project have also informed my teaching practice and led to the development of several research outputs contributing to advancing the discipline of fashion design for sustainability and social innovation.
Want to find our more about Making for Change: Waltham Forest?
- Visit the project page – Making for Change: Waltham Forest
- Read the final Making for Change: Waltham Forest project report
- Contact Francesco with feedback, advice and ideas
Looking Forward –
What’s next for Making for Change: Waltham Forest?
As Waltham Forest’s year as London Borough of Culture came to an end, I successfully applied for further funding for follow-on activities to sustain the legacies that have been activated throughout project.
Thanks to funding from the Great Place scheme, we are working on ‘Shift the Power, Switch the Button’, a project in collaboration with Blackhorse Lane Ateliers. The idea is to turn knives into buttons and rivets to make customized pairs of jeans. Participating in work placement experiences in the creative industries, young people will gain skills that will have a lasting impact on their lives. The journeys of the young people and the positive changes the project will activate in their lives will be captured through film. A fundraising event will be organised, and the funding raised will contribute to establishing a social enterprise to sustain on-going activities focused on using fashion to fight knife crime.
With the aim of amplifying the impact of ‘Forest Coats’, LBWF is funding the delivery of another iteration of the project. This will be delivered in two parts: one with a small group of new volunteers at Forest Recycling Project, and another series of workshops at Arbeit Studios Leyton Green with the former group of participants learning more advanced skills (i.e. zero-waste pattern cutting). To assist in the delivery of the two programmes, two women who previously participated in the Forest Coats project will be hired, in order to train the new participants in the skills they previously developed. Furthermore, multi-media instructions will be designed and made openly available as a long-lasting legacy of the project, for people to continue learning making Forest Coats on their own.
We will also focus on building the legacy of Fashion Futures 2030, a research project initially commissioned by the V&A Museum and subsequently developed into toolkits for businesses and educators. With thanks to a KE Impact Fund from HEIF, we will deliver Continued Professional Development (CPD) workshops for teachers and businesses in East London. We envisage that the project will contribute to aiding businesses in exploring sustainability-related issues of their work, and profiling the businesses to wider audiences, as well as increasing teachers’ knowledge and understanding of sustainability and enhancing teaching practice and curriculum delivery.