Embedded in the jungle of chicken shops, greasy spoon cafes, and kebab takeaways on Portland Road, in South Norwood, you will find the vibrant colours of a modern art gallery.
“They heard there was an art gallery in Portland Road and they wouldn’t believe that”, Elizabeth James, the owner of the art gallery, told Eastlondonlines. James said: “They’d come and check in disbelief.”
James, who had lived in the area for many years, acquired the space after entering the council’s competition to win an old shops rent-free for a year. She told Eastlondonlines: “When the council did some research to see what kind of shops people wanted in the area, they knew exactly what they didn’t want: food shops, hairdressers, vape shops. People specifically said that they wanted art and culture.”
James, a professional photographer, felt the need to have her own shop front to show her work. “I always loved art. When I was living just across the road I used to say ‘I want an art gallery’, but I didn’t know what that meant at that age; I didn’t have a clue”, she told Eastlondonlines.
Three years ago, many people initially expressed scepticism at James’ ambition, warning her that running her business in South Norwood would be too challenging. Today, after two years able to pay her own rent, she is now looking to move into a bigger exhibition space to accommodate the rising demand from artists and the community.
The art gallery, with monthly shows exhibiting artists from all over the world, brought residents and art enthusiasts from outside the area to Portland Road. “When we first opened, it was like a ghost town. There was barely any people going past and they would avoid this end of Portland Road, it was considered the bad end, ” James said.
Trevor Junar, 70, owner of a photography shop nearby told Eastlondonlines: “It definitely brought more artistic people to the area. It’s adding a bit of value to the area because what you used to have around here was too many restaurants.”
The owner of local barber shop, Barberjack & Son, Yianni Hapeshis, 29, described the changes that he saw in the area since the art gallery’s opening: “We are getting more professionals moving to the area, young couples. The community is more of a mixed community, compared to three years ago.”