Much as they have been on all too many of London’s high streets, businesses were struggling on Aberfeldy Street. The many vacant shops and limited retail offer were also undermining its civic role as gathering place for this neighbourhood wedged between the A12, A13 and Bow Creek.
In 2019, Poplar HARCA and EcoWorld London, who own the properties that line the high street, commissioned High Street Works (JKA’s joint venture with Meanwhile Space CIC) to re-energise the economic and social life of Aberfeldy Street over a period of two years, building the capacity of its business and community networks to take their place in the pending redevelopment of Aberfeldy Village.
Our interventions began with the ‘Start Here’ programme, which coupled eye-catching but light-touch refurbishment works to inactive retail units with support to existing shops and recruitment of new, innovative businesses to occupy vacant premises. As entrepreneurs are given the physical and strategic tools to adapt to changing customer needs, existing businesses are retained.
In exchange for this support, businesses committed to engage with the neighbourhood through a series of ‘give-back’ events, continuing a programme of engagement and outreach activities that ran throughout the project’s development. The promotion of Aberfeldy Street as a worthy cultural destination is helping to increase footfall and business viability.
Setting the scene for this transformation, a bold patchwork mural and tree lighting wash the high street and its facades in fresh colours. In homage to Poplar’s legacy of garment manufacture, and in particular the Bangladeshi kantha tradition of textile recycling, we called out to the community to donate patches of well-loved fabrics. We then digitally scanned and stitched the submitted swatches to stretch across 26 buildings, before Cuttle Construction and the London Mural company brought it to life in 200 different colours of paint.