The artists’ initial consultation with local groups had encountered a repeated request for a photographic record of the many campaigns taking place across the Docklands area. This became a central activity of the Poster Project, and an archive of their b/w negatives is still held by the artists. The colour transparencies are held by the Museum of London Docklands.
There were many campaigns during this period. Examples of some of these are listed below, while the wider ranging events surrounding the People’s Armada to Parliament and the People’s Plan for the Royal Docks have been included as sections in their own right. The East West Road campaign of the early eighties was created in opposition to a proposal for a trunk road to cut through the centre of Wapping, which would effectively take the heart out of this close knit community. Early one morning, led by many of Wapping’s elderly residents, people marched in an unending stream across a pedestrian crossing on the Highway, the main through-way for heavy vehicles north of the Thames to the east of Tower Bridge. Highly organised and using walkie-talkies to co-ordinate events, demonstrators successfully blocked the road for several hours, forcing heavy traffic down through streets along the designated path of the new trunk road. Traffic soon came to a halt, and was held there long enough to give the press the opportunity to document events and the community to tell their side of the story, which had hitherto failed to be been taken into account. The East West road was never built.
Towards the end of the eighties moves were made by the London Docklands Development Corporation to create a massive office development along Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs. There was serious local concern that this development would bring few resources and many disadvantages to the Island’s communities. Little practical benefit could be demonstrated by the developers. There was no significant lack of office space in the capital, the location lacked transport and other infrastructure needed for the estimated high volume of commuters, and key voices in the city were speaking out against plans to re-locate London’s financial centre to this Docklands site.
A campaign was launched by the Island communities. One event in this, instigated and organised by local residents, was particularly interesting in that the method through which they chose to relay their message was entirely cultural. This followed several years of campaigning through the arts in Docklands and is an example of the shift in approach that occurred over this period. The demonstration that was organised found its power of presentation in symbolic forms and creation of the photo opportunity tableau, requiring only documentation and banners from the Poster Project. Community activist Peter Wade led a funeral procession dressed as an undertaker, accompanied by the local vicar and others carrying black banners which bore the names of the housing estates they represented. A coffin, representing the death of the Island was wheeled on a carriage between them, and laid to rest at the Canary Wharf site.
A later event protesting the proposed closure of the Mudchute Farm was enacted at the instigation of the Canary Wharf development. Locals were angry that amongst the new plans for their area, was to be the destruction of the much loved Mudchute Farm, a working urban farm, riding centre, public amenity and educational resource. It had been created, financed and successfully run for many years entirely through local effort and as such embodied many of the values dear to residents of the Isle of Dogs. When this was to be scrapped and its animals destroyed, while an office development was being pushed through that was so unneeded and unpopular that even the City of London failed to give it support, this proved the last straw. The event hosted by the London Docklands Development Corporation to celebrate the signing of the master build agreement for Canary Wharf provided a fitting public context for expression of local feeling. A champagne reception was held in the open air along the dock overlooking the Canary Wharf site. As Eddie George, then Governor of the Bank of England, stood up to deliver his speech, a whistle blew.
From the tops of the warehouses bordering the dock, banners were hurled proclaiming the ongoing nature of the Docklands struggle. A van drew up, its rear doors opened, and beehives from the Mudchute farm placed at each side of the flower decked podium, their lids removed. More was to come. A herd of sheep emerged from the van and veered towards the podium where they began eating the flowers. When security guards started to pursue the sheep, someone called, “You’re driving them into the dock!”, following which the guards chose not to risk the animals’ lives. The Development Corporation had organised national press coverage for their event. The Mudchute Farm was not closed.