Who needs the vibrant streets of Shoreditch or the hipster studios of Hackney Wick to find a burgeoning art scene? The Catford Arts Trail proves that creativity is on the doorstep.
The annual trail, which has been organised by volunteers since 2016, spans 39 spots across Catford with over 100 local artists showcasing their talent and selling their crafts to the wider community for two October weekends.
Venues range from the Catford Bridge Tavern and the multi-levelled venue Ninth Life, to the homes of the artists themselves, who have opened their doors to the public.
The Catford Arts Trail has come a long way since its beginnings, when co-founder Wendy Dean opened her house to 21 local artists to raise money for Macmillan cancer nurses. “We were always in other arts trails in Brighton and Dulwich, which are massive,” said Dean of herself and a small group of friends. “We were big fans, but we decided, ‘You know what? We’re going to stop spending all our time in everybody else’s and actually have our own.’”
Those five friends became the founders of the Catford Arts Trail, which has now expanded to a team of 10 volunteers who are committed to bringing the event to locals each year – even through a global pandemic. Between the two lockdowns of 2020 when restrictions temporarily eased, the organisers saw an opportunity to rekindle a much-needed sense of community by letting the trail go ahead. Dean said: “We didn’t have many houses, because obviously people had to do one-way systems, all sorts of things, so it was smaller, but it was amazing that we still did it and people were so appreciative.” Smaller it may have been, but the event still drew an estimated 10,000 visits for 70 participating artists across 31 venues.
Much of the art made by Catford creatives both impacts and is inspired by the local community. Allison Parkinson, children’s author and illustrator, was showcasing her self-published novels in the upstairs space of Moon Lane Books. Released through her own publishing company, Tiger’s Eye Books, the reporter-turned-novelist said: “The reason I started writing was because when my daughters were little, there were very few books we could find where the main character looked like them. And then suddenly, this character popped into my head.”
Aiming to champion diversity in her work that is reflective of the Catford community where Parkinson has lived for over 20 years, the titular hero of her book series, Laurella Swift, is a Catholic, mixed-race schoolgirl who her daughters could identify with. Only 7% of the children’s books published in the UK over the last 3 years feature characters of colour, a study by CLPE discovered in 2020, when 32.6% of Lewisham primary school pupils are Black, with a further 16.6% being from mixed-race backgrounds according to the Department of Education.
The first in the historical fiction series, Laurella Swift and the Keys of Time is a time-warping adventure which sees the Catford schoolgirl travel to the heart of ancient Persia, weaving issues such as gender equality, race identity and friendship into a story that explores the ancient, opulent world. Parkinson also includes an author’s note, a selection of useful links, a recipe idea and an ancient cuneiform writing activity to expand young readers’ minds.
Parkinson’s stall not only includes all three of her published works, but also necklaces, bookmarks and tote bags. She said: “It’s been lovely meeting people and getting a feeling of the support that you’re getting from the community. There’s such a range of talent to see.” Parkinson also joins other readers and novelists at Catford Library for storytelling sessions and feedback.
As well as writing, Parkinson illustrates her own work, with her 2020 book Tick-Tock being inspired by her own family who informed her drawings. Parkinson said: “I’ve had some beautiful feedback. There was one little girl who read Tick-Tock, and she was saying how, for one of the first times, she saw herself in a book. I’m a school governor at Sandhurst Primary School, and what I hope to do when restrictions lift is to visit and share the books with the children.”
Also participating in 2021’s Catford Arts Trail is self-taught illustrator and street artist SLAYZY, whose anime-inspired, “neo-Japanese” work can be found as part of the murals outside Lewisham Station. Despite selling his work for seven years in the more established art hives of Camden, Brixton and Shoreditch, this is the South East London native’s first year participating. He says: “It’s a really big thing. It’s an amazing thing, and really brings everyone together.”
While the event aims to elevate the profile of Catford artists, inclusivity is at the heart of what they do. Dean said: “We don’t turn anyone away. We don’t have a selection process, or anything like that. We don’t insist that you live or work in Catford, unlike some other arts trails. If someone doesn’t have a venue, we make every effort to find them somewhere. We’ve never had to turn someone away.” Visitors are encouraged to visit as many venues as possible with their stamp sheet competition. By exploring nine destinations and collecting a cat-shaped stamp at each, you can enter into a competition to win £100 to spend on the work of any artists on the trail.
“People just love having something on their doorstep – it’s not scary. It’s not like going into a fancy gallery or anything like that. You’re going into people’s homes, and odd spaces like the upstairs of a pub. It’s very easy for people to just wander in and partake in art, it its many forms,” she said.
The Catford Arts Trail continues this weekend. Find out more on their website.