A Place in Tottenham

Hannah Place has only been living in Tottenham for a relatively short time, but has already formed a special connection with the area. As such she has made it the base for launching her project PLACE A, which is described as a network creating projects using art as a tool to push progress on topics including social inclusion and equality, LGBTQ+, BAME, gender equality, and culture. Rachel Ho had a chat to Hannah to find out how she ended up in Tottenham and her inspiration for starting the art network.

Photo supplied: Hannah Place

Where did you grow up and what did your parents do?

Childhood for me was a real collage of place and UK culture. Through my formative years I lived in East Ham right round the corner from Upton Park but if you stepped into our home you could have been on the set of a Vogue couture home shoot.

We weren’t well off then but my parents were both designers and so we were raised on innovative bold furniture inventions made by them. Right out of the gate we were learning about structure, form, the Bauhaus school, Mondrian, life drawing, perspective.

Our parents were both fairly fresh out of art school and I doubt they had any idea how much it influenced the way that my brother and I think. We’re both sort of wired for art and design.

Back then we were home-schooled, so our whole everyday environment was these crazy structures, the huge two-floor Gaudi-esque mural, and our peers were these two adults with tools and paint who made stuff and talked about innovation. Nothing was conventional and that really stuck with me.

Photo supplied: A younger Hannah with her family.

When I was nine my parents divorced and we moved to a village called Tumble right out in the middle of The Valleys in South Wales. A completely different life out there. We went to Welsh schools, sung in the choir, and spent our weekends and holidays on the beach with Dad poking about in caves and being disappointingly bad at surfing. Sorry Dad.

Describe your relationship to Tottenham.

The place has my heart. There’s so much vibrance here. Having moved around a lot I value anywhere with a beating, living culture where you can arrive as a stranger and it’s immediately you’re enveloped in a thick homely feeling. That’s what I get from Tottenham.

The culture here’s got a sense of still being raw and unfettered. The amount of creatives in Tottenham really struck me when I got here. Up until Autumn 2017 I was living in Canterbury and just decided it was time to come back to London and see if I could make something happen in art and community. I landed in Tottenham completely by chance and every day since it’s proved to me that it’s where I need to be.

What is Place A and what inspired you to start it?

I was working for an art organisation in central London that dealt with young contemporary artists and the contemporary art market when the Brexit vote happened. It changed the way I felt I needed to be moving through the art world, like waking up and realising you’re in the middle of an emergency.

Funding for the arts was and still is seeing huge cuts, it seemed like the creative sector was being asked to close up shop which was ludicrous. Art is a life-line, not extra weight to haul overboard when it gets a bit choppy.

Culture is needed in London more than ever before in rapidly changing areas like Tottenham. After the leave vote we were seeing spikes in hate crime and lacking trust between Brits especially in the most diverse areas of our cities.

To tackle issues like that and built community understanding you have to start on a personal level with people. That’s art and that’s culture.

Tottenham has this fantastic cultural diversity and we need to be uplifting that through the arts to realise our differences as plentiful cultural assets.

To me art has always been a cultural tool, so when I moved to Tottenham I set up PLACE A to be a helping hand in connecting the creatives here with the wider community and use artistic and creative practice as a tool to tackle social issues alongside the community.

Photo supplied: Hannah speaking at an event.

There are issues to be addressed. A lot of people in Tottenham are concerned about the way that the area is developing. In recent decades we’ve all watched developments around London result in marginalised communities and unrest in places like Hackney Wick, Elephant and Castle.

There are always two sides to this coin but the priority has to be making sure that the local community’s interests are central to the changes that happen in an area. The key to that is active cultural engagement and we have everything we need to create that right here in Tottenham.

As a woman, how do you think Tottenham has changed? What would you like to see change?

Just in the time that I’ve been living and working here Tottenham has changed. Up-and-coming is the term on everyone’s lips. More and more I’m having conversations with people around London who are like ‘Oh you live in Tottenham, have you been to XYZ? I’ve heard it’s great!’ which I don’t remember being the case a year ago.

As a newbie, when I want to evaluate how think things are moving I feel I need to check in with the long-time local community to inform my opinion. From people who I’ve spoken to, yes, there are concerns but also there is a lot of well-founded hope for the area. People are excited about new possibilities and a growing culture.

There are cultural issues which are already beginning to be helped by the changes. Public perception of the youth culture has been a huge thing that Tottenham has struggled with in recent years and in fact through recent decades with riots and negative news stories.

Before I moved here the negative headlines about youth culture made up most of what I knew about the area and of course it’s all wrong but that stuff rubs off on young people if they’re not trusted. Now however the conversation about ‘Tottenham’ is totally different. It’s nuanced. People are becoming aware of all the culture here and amazing people doing amazing things.

This is what I want to see more of but people need to patriate those two images of Tottenham. I want to be having conversations with people in Surrey who are saying ‘Oh you live in Tottenham, yeah I read all those articles recently on how engaged the youth culture is in creative production, how amazing!’ Because that’s a much more accurate narrative for Tottenham and people need to hear it.

Favourite thing to do in Tottenham?

I’ve taken to cycling along the canal whenever I have an excuse to. I love it! I’m a terrible cyclist but it’s so peaceful down there I could pedal around for hours and never get tired.

A close second though is pub-hopping, I’m a sucker for a good pub and Tottenham has loads, people keep introducing me to more of them all the time too. A few days ago a friend took me to The Fountain- that’s a real little hidden gem, it’s delightful. Another one which I was shown recently was The Lord Palmerston. These are the real niche ones that only certain people seem to know about so they make for a good evening. I’m becoming a die-hard local at the Beehive too - am I allowed to call pubs a hobby? I feel like that would make my time spent in them seem a bit more legit or something, either way they’re ace in Tottenham.

Anything you would like to add?

If anyone has opinions about the development of the area or the creative and cultural scene here I’d love to have a chat, I try to keep as much time as possible for being open to listening to people about their thoughts on the area, and talking to creatives who want to get more active with the community. If that’s you hit me up.

Photo supplied: Hannah Place

Found out more about Place A:

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