Whilst town centres nationwide have been trying to assert themselves against the relentless advance of online retail, Ilford is quietly but confidently re-inventing itself. A new street food market and urban rooftop farm was recently established on a disused car park. The old town hall has been transformed into artists’ workspace. A street art gallery has sprung up to adorn blank building facades. And a new modular homeless shelter complete with training workshop provides accommodation and support for rough sleepers.
Together with urban events company Things Made Public, we have developed a two-pronged strategy to complete the transformation and help launch Ilford Town Center as a key cultural destination on the north-eastern fringe of the capital.
The Spark Lab takes up the ground floor of a vacant department store to provide incubation space for cultural organisations and local businesses with a public purpose wanting to trial a high street presence. Modular furniture, lighting and adaptable displays can be deployed in multiple configurations to suit a range of uses.
Wilderness Street is the title for a temporary living urban landscape to be installed in the town center, adjacent to the Lab. We identified Oakfield Road as a key artery that binds together Ilford’s most important cultural venues and the high street.
Before large-scale urbanisation started from the C19, the Ilford, Barkingside and Hainault area was characterised by forests, fields and meadows. Our design strategy seeks to temporarily revive these lost landscapes. We have selected Uphall Camp Beacon, the former Royal Forest of Hainault and the Essex Grazing Marshes as blueprints for plant species and landscape character to be replicated by our proposal for Oakfield Road.
The project advocates for the preservation of ancient natural landscapes and their role in maintaining biodiversity and supporting well-being. A series of community events and workshops around the theme of landscape including planting workshops are programmed for the duration of the project.
The legacy strategy will see all planting including trees and shrubs given away to community organisations and Ilford residents at the end of the project. Enticing local people to adopt the plants will see elements of the ancient Essex landscape re-instated in public places in Ilford, in peoples gardens, front gardens, planters and allotments.