On 22nd February 2014, young performers and volunteers came together to perform a collaborative site-specific piece of theatre entitled ‘Stories in Residence: Tales from the Sunshine Flats’. This marked the end of the highly successful year-long youth heritage project Kensal Voices by SPID Theatre company in collaboration with the V&A and the Twentieth Century Society, with the support of the North Kensington and Kensington Central Libraries and funded by the Heritage Lottery fund. The project brought together young people from the local area to research and learn about Kensal House, an iconic grade II* listed modernist building in the heart of Ladbroke Grove designed by Maxwell Fry and the setting for the final performance. Over the year young participants aged 13-25 took part in architecture and design workshops, wrote and designed an information brochure about Kensal House, made a soundtrack with famous songs across the decades, created an original track inspired by the building, interviewed residents from the estate, developed and led guided tours of the estate and created an interactive, site-specific show at Kensal House. The young people played an integral part in the design, marketing and technical aspects of the show, having taken part in workshops run by industry professionals.
Two of SPID’s young performers and longstanding participants of the project, Anuli Changa and Natalie Stachon, spoke passionately about Kensal House and what they have learnt from the project. Anuli, also one of the project ambassadors, wrote a blog post outlining the importance of Kensal House to the surrounding community:
“For me Kensal House is more than just a building, it’s a collection of really beautiful and inspiring memories, past and present. Throughout the Kensal Voices project, my eyes have been opened to all the amazing things that have happened in and around Kensal House (the annual Notting Hill Carnival being one of many). When we interviewed residents of Kensal House, we learnt about community parties that were simply carried by people’s high spirits and good will (and accompanied by some truly fantastic music over the years)!
This project has taught me to be open-minded and not to judge too hastily. When I came to the very first Kensal Voices session, I was sceptical about what one building could teach me, but I was in for a surprise! How amazing is it that such an important part of history can be unlocked by one building? I’m very proud to be part of the team that is attempting to raise awareness of the magic of Kensal House.”
Natalie, talented violinist and aspiring journalist, was fascinated by Elizabeth Denby, the housing consultant for Kensal House, and her vision for the estate:
“Elizabeth Denby, social reformer and housing consultant at Kensal House, worked with architect Maxwell Fry and was well known for being resourceful – she made sure the tenants would have everything they would need – e.g. furniture.
Spectators experienced a promenade through Kensal House as part of the show, no doubt passing over several trajectories that Elizabeth Denby may have taken whilst walking around the Grade II* listed site… with a view to observing if the tenants’ vegetable patches were in order!
It’s amazing to look back at history – to think the community rooms we have taken over have the same party atmosphere as in 1937 when community events were held here for the residents! The participants and tenants of the present day ooze passion and pride in equal measure for improving Kensal House. That is why it’s so important this site-specific show reaches out to local people, engages with the community and gets people excited!”
SPID also had some superb feedback for the performances:
“Excellent- great construction of fiction and fact, performance and observation/ documentation, activity and contemplation. The small interludes, and first person narratives give an excellent context for the piece. The building and site bring characters into own light. Very revealing and entertaining. I love the love invested in the community and place.”
“Kindness, good will and community came to life and inspired us during the tour- the spirit of the founders and early community & its individual voices moved me. I loved the unassuming demonstration to do right by others, in those recorded voices & present day performers. Thank you.”
“An extraordinary tour well presented about a historic building. Great architecture and also learning how life was at the time of building this lovely building.”
“Thank you to the tour guides, assistants and production crew for a splendid interactive performance. You were all wonderful and I hope Kensal Voices continues.”