Undercraft creative hub

The Undercraft: from derelict garages to creative hub

Gospel Oak’s London School of Mosaic has gone into overdrive

Growing up around Gospel Oak in the 1970s, I hazily remember when the huge blocks of the Lismore Circus Estate were a shiny new(ish) example of Camden’s ambitious post-WWII social housing utopia. The lengthy terraces, atop affordable workshops and, er, ample subterranean parking bays, felt like a vision of the equitable future, where vehicle ownership and multi-storey live/work spaces defined aspirational success.

The estate may have become a touch less lauded and a fair bit more scruffy over the half century since, but the experimental 60s vision that reimagined Camden’s bombed-out cheek-by-jowl terraced urban living is nevertheless still birthing innovative – and unexpected – projects, with genuine benefits for the community. Hence the space for The Undercraft creative hub.

Five years ago, a section of the long-abandoned garages beneath the neighbourhood’s Ludham and Waxham blocks was repurposed into a home for the fledgling London School of Mosaic (LSoM).

Through the happily tactile medium of creating art by the precise placment of small, coloured pieces of stone, a truly vibrant new community hub quickly began to emerge. The opening of the really rather fabulous, shabby retro-chic Mother Canteen café on the site further helped establish the reputation that something special lay waiting to be discovered in this unexpectedly generous forgotten space.

Undercraft creative hub

With yawning empty carpark square footage still sitting damp and idle under the flats, it was somehow inevitable that the success of the LSoM project might ultimately lead to a question of ‘so what next’? And in due turn, architects Public Works were appointed to run a feasibility study and see if the other abandoned garages might be similarly upgraded and put to alternative uses.

“Back in late 2019 we received funding from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund, along with matchfunding from Camden Council and Arts Council England, to transform the empty garages under the Ludham Estate into workspaces for artists, makers and local charities,” says LSoM Director Silvie Jacobi.

“I’d previously worked at the School in an education leadership capacity, and I knew that there was potential to rent out space to artists, some of whom became our lecturers or collaborators, so the vision to expand our artist studio provision was always at the heart of driving this project.”

Over many recent months, Silvie’s team have been busy transforming swathes of otherwise unappealing and unloved underground garages into a series of new spaces that will stimulate and support the area’s many chronically underfunded creatives.

Undercraft creative hub

“We’re now creating a community of artists, makers and arts organisations that can all be permanently located here in Gospel Oak,” says Silvie, “an area of London where it is difficult to find artist workspace due to affordability of such space.” Early tenants across arts and charities include HVH Arts, Little Hands Design, Swiss Cottage School and Action Youth Intervention. Meanwhile, making use of the garages also has also been taken up enthusiastically be the likes of radio station Urban Xtra and boxing gym Metrobox, too.  

The Undercraft creative hub soft-launched this month, with a full bells-and-whistles opening planned for the autumn, but it’s such an exciting local development we basically couldn’t wait to showcase what’s happening now.

As Silvie backs up, the space is already producing serious creative work, with artistic impact across the capital. “Today our artists and volunteers are working on a 57m-long mosaic soon to be installed at London Bridge station,” she beams.  “Further information about this can be found on the dedicated Instagram profile.

Meanwhile, if you are an artist, charity or group interested in becoming part of this unique hub, and/or would like to volunteer to help the project develop, reach out to info@lsomosaic.com

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out Camdenist for more?

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