A fond farewell
The creative local landmark that is Craft Central is moving out of EC1 this August. Former chief executive Louisa Pacifico pays tribute.
Craft Central started life as The Clerkenwell Green Association, a charity promoting local craft, in 1970 (becoming known by its current name in 2007). For 37 years, it has proudly housed and nurtured hundreds of small designer-maker businesses within its two historic buildings, on Clerkenwell Green and in St John’s Square. From goldsmiths to luthiers, milliners to ceramicists, it’s probably seen every craft discipline you can imagine. And the work produced has been commissioned by the likes of big fashion houses, international royalty and A-List celebrities.
Inside, it’s like a real-life, 3-D advent calendar. The halls are dark, uninviting, featuring just grey doors with numbers. But open any of those doors, and you find yourself in a little inspirational world, full of machines you’ve never seen before and floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with moulds, tools and quirky objets reflecting the resident designer’s personality.
Craft Central is a community, and it’s community that makes it special; the mix of people, skills and crafts. An important milestone for the charity was the introduction in 2013 of a gallery space in the main building for designers to hire. This created a literal window onto our world, a place where designers could showcase (and sell) their wares, and the public could admire (and buy) them.
In my 18 months there, I had the pleasure of getting to know the individual businesses, how they operate and, most importantly, how they survive. I was struck by how the designers (with the support of the staff) looked after each other by sharing contacts and supplying specialist help to each other when needed. Jonathan Lloyd-Platt, who was chief executive before me, agrees that community is the key to the whole project: “People of such differing characters and talents working together for the greater good – that is why it is such a dynamic and creative hub.”
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Andrew English, a goldsmith who has been at Craft Central for 11 years, started his business by renting a spare jeweller’s bench in one of the studios. He now has a studio of his own, which he shares with goldsmith and architect Amanda Li Hope. “Craft Central has been such an important place for me,” says Andrew. “Over the years, I’ve formed connections with people and services that have helped my business to flourish. It’s been an amazing place of creative energy.”
So why is it moving out of Clerkenwell, London’s own “Craft Central”? It’s simply down to economics. The Clerkenwell Green Association wanted to create affordable workshops for skilled artisans in a place where craftsmanship had deep roots. Back then, though, in the Seventies, the area was a grotty, unloved and slightly shady part of town. Now, however, it’s a totally different picture.
With the lease on the buildings nearing an end and EC1 property prices ever on the up, the trustees took the big decision of moving elsewhere, in order to keep the charity running. For its new home, Craft Central is currently in the process of converting a huge old shipbuilding warehouse on the Isle of Dogs. It will be known there under a new name, The Forge, and have 70 studios, plus flexible co-working desks and a large event space.
I’ll be visiting – I hope you can keep the connection with Clerkenwell going and venture there too.