Updated: Aug 21, 2020
So how did lockdown treat you? A strange and discombobulating time, without obvious structure, rhythm or rules. If you were ill or sheltering, sadly, you have had an all encompassing set of needs and problems to deal with. For those who were not, the grand pause in day to day life was tortuous for some and yet cathartic for others. For me, the days floated by like my teenage summer holidays. A no mans land, but with house chores to do and provisions to acquire!
SPITALFIELDS CITY FARM - a vibrant community space in London's East End
I was lucky enough to be called early on by a good friend, who instructed me to show up at our local city farm for watering duties (many of the volunteers being absent, restricted to home with young children or vulnerable relatives to care for). I did my duty - and once I got into the swing of dowsing the seedlings and battling the ever present weeds I grew to love the serenity and hanker for the sunny solitude it afforded me. Time to think, time to talk at length to friends, time to dream.
And then one day I was asked to retrieve something from the Farm Shop - a strange and dusty shed I had never noticed before, tucked away in a corner of the farmyard. This workaday cabin was storehouse to a maverick selection of goods, odd pieces of paraphernalia, and numerous spiders! At first, I was horrified. How could this be the retail emporium of a city farm much in need of funds - with its mix and match furniture and chaotic displays? How did it come to be in this condition? The answer is all too common I suspect. In a community business closed by an epidemic, with minimal income and manned by a dedicated, but skeleton staff, the shop was the least of their worries. I sensed a vision of what could be for this cute, but indifferent shack and with the management's agreement we quickly hatched a plan of action to give the shop a makeover and relaunch when the farm reopened.
BEFORE - when is a shop not a shop? When nobody has time (or the specialist skills) to nurture it.
With no available money to spend (that old VM makeover chestnut), we reached out to various contacts and acquaintances, securing leftover paint, offcut fabrics and a small donation towards wood and fixings. Within days we had stripped out the product and fixtures, and began painting. The shop had a musty atmosphere, and felt cramped, due to the low ceiling made more squat since it had been left unpainted. A quick lick of white emulsion changed that and instantly we saw the beginnings of a transformation. The ceiling appeared to have grown a few feet taller and the space suddenly felt illuminated, with light reflecting back down from the now pale rafters.
The heavy brown furniture; mismatched, loveworn cast offs, but fundamentally in good shape, were painted, distressed and sealed. Next, we cut MDF shelves and fitted to the full length of the walls, giving maximum room for the grouped displays that I saw in my mind's eye. The floor was repainted too and new fabric curtains and dropcloths were stitched (the spare offcuts became bunting). Nothing was wasted!
Finally, we brought back the edited product range and zoning the space into beauty, accessories, home, produce and a bright colour story, the shop was merchandised. Odd product that really did not fit (Christmas or Easter themed), was packed away for later seasonal promotions.
THE FINAL RESULT - a bright shop interior with a modern artisan lean, worthy of the farm and its incredible community
The interior now finished, we turned our attention to the yard outside, which needed little more than a declutter and deep clean. Once cleared of accumulated crates and palettes, the new found space enabled us to layout garden tables and chairs, resite plant stands and benches and paint the guttering and door furniture so it 'disappeared'. We stripped away out of date signage and on a whim, whipped up a chalkboard for fresh produce promotion. Whilst the makeover was in-play, the farm team were inspired to create some new product lines, with a cleaner packaging that suited the new environment.
All in all, I am thrilled at the result and delighted to observe the team's enthusiasm as they continue to bring new product ideas to fruition. The space is clean, contemporary and a fitting background to the fantastic merchandise that is predominantly handmade on the farm or by local artisans. Yet again, this is proof that big budgets are not always necessary to create great retail environments. Creativity, open-minded team work, strong disciplines and simple toil can work wonders where cash is thin on the ground.
The farm has yet to reopen and currently remains reliant on its online shop, but we can't wait to see what our visitors make of the change when they do return.
SPITALFIELDS CITY FARM can be found at https://www.spitalfieldscityfarm.org/