Ten years of cultural campaigning with the communities of East London around issues arising from the development of the London Docklands. Production of photo-murals, exhibitions, photographic documentation, graphics and events.
Collaboration with Peter Dunn and a team involving graphic designers Sandra Buchanan and Dini Lallah, administrator Belinda Kidd and contributions by Tony Minion, Sonia Boyce, Donald Rodney, and Keith Piper.
The Docklands Community Poster Project was founded in 1981 by Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn in response to the concerns of East London communities over an extensive proposed re-development programme.
The newly elected Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher designated the land surrounding the working docks, from St Katherine’s Dock east of Tower Bridge downriver to the Royal Docks, as an Urban Development Corporation. This effectively removed local control from an area crossing five London boroughs, with the aim of transferring it into private ownership. However, this land, now known as the London Docklands, not only incorporated docks and warehouses, but was also home and workplace to 56,000 people. Historically, up to this time the communities of East London had been poor but politically active. They were not against development, they just wanted it to also meet their own needs. A struggle ensued…
The artists, who had previously been working closely with local trades unions around health issues, were approached to produce a poster alerting local people to what was to come. Following a period of consultation with tenants and action groups, however, it soon became clear that the proposed poster was not enough. Posters were indeed wanted, but ‘large ones’ to match the scale of the proposals – also design work to help with individual campaigns, documentation of the area before it changed and a record of each battle as it was fought. In addition, there was a need for easily accessible information that examined key issues such as housing and specific development sites in more depth.
With all this in mind, though with as yet no funding, Loraine and Peter developed a plan that would deliver art and design work for these key areas. Most importantly, and based on their experience of working with the trades councils, they created a steering committee for the project. Tenants in the area were already federated into action groups for each locality, and since the proposed re-development of the Docklands, had also formed a representative Joint Docklands Action Group. The Docklands Community Poster Project organised itself along similar lines and representatives of each area met regularly to report on local developments, agree issues to be represented and consider the audience that the artwork should serve. A small amount of funding was eventually raised from the local boroughs and the regional arts board, finally matched by a significant grant from the new Labour controlled Greater London Council. The steering group became a community co-op, and part-time staff employed to fulfil roles of administration, design and technical support. An arts project that began as a request for a poster eventually became the cultural arm of an extraordinary campaigning community over a period of ten years.