WHAT'S IN STORE
STORE Projects has a simple aim: to get young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into the creative industries. David Anderson surveys the possibilities for the emerging N1C community
Words by Dave Anderson.
A collaborative enterprise in the widest sense, STORE brings together artists, architects, engineers and designers. The aim: to address the social imbalance within art, design and architecture education by getting more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into applied creative courses. Through a mixture of after-school clubs, workshops and a retail space, their residency in Lower Stable Street will offer a taste of what an education (and even a career) in creative practice can offer.
STORE STREET TO THE WORLD
It all began back in 2011, when a group of graduates from the RCA and UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture started working together on various projects, including designing and fitting out a café on Store Street, WC1, the location that gave the group its name. From here, the group hosted a wide-ranging programme of projects and events that encompassed film and creative writing as well as art and design-based activity. Asmore makers and creative thinkers joined a core group led by Kevin Green (himself a tutor at the Bartlett and a graduate of the RCA), an ever greater diversity of skills and specialisms was added to the group’s offering. And as the workshops and summer schools continued to increase in scope and scale, so the association gained formal recognition as a Community Interest Company in 2014.
These days, whether they’re cast-ing objects from concrete or designing innovative public seating to encourage social interaction, the young people taking part in STORE’s workshops and summer schools find themselves doing and thinking about the kinds of things that are, as one former student put it, ‘not discussed enough’ in school – whether because of cost, practicality or the lack of specialist expertise. Offering students the chance to design and build all manner of objects and environments – from the everyday to the unorthodox – STORE opens up a rare window onto what a life in creative practice really involves. Along the way, the group’s hands-on, playful and innovative approach to engagement helps build lasting links between participants, experts and the wider public.
A NEW CIVIC IDENTITY
STORE’s new base on Lower Stable Street promises to become a focal point for the emerging N1C community. Hosting a series of regular after-school clubs open to local state school pupils, the site will provide a platform for creative interaction between local people and the new world of designers, shopkeepers and architects in Coal Drops Yard. On weekends, its workshops will spill out into the open space of the yard itself and ultimately, STORE also plans to live up to its name by operating the Lower Stable Street space as a shop to sell the products that have been designed and made at its after-school clubs.
STORE’s associates, led by Green and designer James Shaw, hope that the resulting exchange of ideas, innovation and practical knowledge will come to embody the values of the civic identity being forged for this new environment. Over the course of its tenancy, STORE’s ambition is to make sure that the opportunities being created by the N1C development are brought within reach of young people in the immediate area – offering them the chance to have a real stake in what’s going on around them and to take an active role in the shaping of their environment.
As Martyna Marciniak, one of the associates involved, explains: “the physical and performative breaking down of the boundary between public space and traditional retail space, creating a more porous, adaptive zone, parallels STORE’s wider belief in allowing the creativity of young people to drive them into the seemingly impermeable creative industries”. On Lower Stable Street, STORE’s resources and technology will be put to use in order to shake up young people’s experience of making and learning ensuring that “more and more diverse, driven and unconventional voices are being heard” in the world of art, design and architecture.
INVESTING IN SPACE
Breaking down boundaries cuts to the core of STORE’s enterprise in another way, too. These days, the things that surround us in daily life seem ever more resistant to practical intervention or repair, the possibility that they could ever be taken apart and rebuilt. At the same time, the techniques and materials that schoolchildren encounter in the classroom seem increasingly detached from the shape and feel of our possessions and the spaces we live in. One way of looking at STORE’s culture is to see it as a counterstrike against this tendency; a way to empower young people to imagine the objects that surround us as practical things that can be dismantled and reinvented for the better.
Here’s just one, very practical example: we walk, drive, cycle, sit on concrete surfaces every day, but how many people get to see how concrete is mixed and moulded into its various forms, what the technicalities of this process are, and how it can be adapted in new and creative ways? Increasingly, the same could be said about Virtual Reality technology, which will be another focus for STORE’s clubs and workshops on Lower Stable Street. By bringing processes like concrete casting and VR design within reach, STORE helps young people to become self-builders – to think critically about what is around them and how it might be rebuilt in more practical, efficient or ethical ways. Mobilising this approach on Lower Stable Street will mean upskilling and empowering, so that the kinds of knowledge and expertise that N1C has in such abundance will get to the spaces and minds that they might not otherwise reach.
DESIGNED AND MADE IN STORE
For each of the first six months of its tenancy, STORE’s after-school clubs will focus on a different kind of product, taking in a wide spectrum of different forms of designing and making. Split into small groups, students will gain industry-level experience in CNC cutting, glass-blowing, ceramics, pattern cutting, laser cutting, robotics and other techniques. With the support and collaboration of the STORE associates, they’ll produce products of a quality that matches up to the kinds of things on offer in Coal Drops Yard: innovative and attractive objects to use and treasure, each one carrying within it the unique, personal narrative of its own conception and development. Initial concepts and themes will be moulded by students’ individual interests and expressions through a well-curated yet flexible exploration of techniques and methods. Steering away from conventional, prescriptive modes of teaching, products will be finalised through a process of dialogue and collaboration – in keeping with STORE’s ethos of mutual support and knowledge exchange.
By operating a retail space as well as workshops, STORE’s Lower Stable Street space will create a platform where the entire life cycle of a product’s development happens in one place, offering a unique chance for young people to see their ideas go from imagination to reality, from initial conception through to design, prototype, manufacture and retail. In the process, they’ll develop a sense of ownership not only of their new skills but also of the space itself. And when customers arrive at the STORE shop, they’ll get the opportunity to find out about the stories behind each of the items for sale – stories driven by the ideas, personality and energy of local young people, combined with the expertise on hand among the STORE associates and the wider Coal Drops Yard community.
Like its workshops and summer schools, the atmosphere of STORE’s contributions to Lower Stable Street will be focused but playful. Fostering individual creativity as well as effective teamwork, the associates’ interdisciplinary, collaborative approach will hopefully embolden students to initiate and develop their own socially engaged projects, encouraging them to add the values of STORE to their own energies and enthusiasms and take this combination forward with them, whatever they go on to do. Meanwhile, STORE’s shopfront will provide a place where all are welcome to come in and find out more about what’s going on.