Shot by a group of 10-15-year-olds, Grange Farm Book documents life on a disappearing London council estate

Passing the camera to the younger generation, My Yard and a series of artists have collaborated on a celebratory memento of an estate in South Harrow.

Share

Art has long been utilised as a means of alleviation; it decreases anxiety and improves mental health. It also boosts confidence, makes people feel engaged and stronger. But a lack of funding, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, has been detrimental to the creative industry, especially the arts. And it’s the younger generation that are feeling the effects the most.

According to The Arts Index – compiled in association with the Creative Industries Federation (CIF) and King’s College London – public funding for the arts in the UK has decreased by 35 per cent since 2008. Without access, there will be grave consequences to the lives and future careers of the country’s youth, from the social and economic to the educational and personal. Young people “view the arts as an important part of their lives”, states a recent report from Arts Council. Its findings tell us that 61 per cent of 12-15-year-olds describe the arts as being “important, or very important,” compared to 85 per cent of 16-18-year-olds and 95 per cent of 19-25-year-olds. So what needs to be done, and how can we, those of the creative industry, provide better access and support for those emerging into the arts?

One way is to offer more community-led projects, which is what My Yard, a charity founded by Rachel Dimond, has been striving to achieve through its impactful work with young residents on Grange Farm Estate. Located in South Harrow, Grange Farm is made up of 282 properties, largely Residorm flats which are built of fibreglass panels that are known to be “expensive and difficult to keep warm”, as noted by Harrow Council. Because of this, the Housing and Regeneration Department obtained permission to regenerate the estate, replacing the structures with 574 new houses and apartments. A lack of social housing and resources made it a tricky minefield for the residents to navigate; they were about to lose their homes.

My Yard was later invited by Young Harris Foundation to look into food poverty on Grange Farm, and its correlation with violence and antisocial behaviour. “We think we did way more,” explains Rachel, who states how they were told they couldn’t hold teen activities due to ‘risk of gang violence’.” Three years later, and to great success, the charity helped the estate set up Changemakers, a self-initiated project that hosted barbecues, circus acts, fairground rides, youth work, gardening spots and food markets, which encouraged friendships to blossom. These moments have now been archived into a celebratory publication titled Grange Farm Book. Conceived with support of the charity and a handful of guest artists, the book comprises 150 pages of photography – a grainy, almost vintage-looking depiction of life as a youth here. All of which is shot on medium format and disposable cameras, taken by the 10-15-year-olds themselves.

Above

My Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

Above

My Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

The idea for the book arose after the success of the charity’s community events, where the artists – Henry Gorse, Stephanie Francis Shanahan, Neesha Champaneria, Jackson Bowley, Roydon Misseldine and Rory Mullen – assisted with workshops and taught creativity to the kids. Henry, a photographer based in London, has prior experience of working with young people and many of his earlier series have lensed important topics of society, culture and politics. During the pandemic, he explains how he was inspired by the work of Paul Anderson – the owner of social justice charity Voyage Youth – who later motivated the launch Shoal, a collective founded by Thomas Bird along with a group of creatives, including Henry. “He encouraged us to keep going and made us realise the importance our work can offer to young people.”

Henry, along with the charity and visiting artists, have therefore given the children and wider community a chance to document their lives in the form of a physical memento. “First and foremost, I think this book comes across as a celebration of community and youth, with a playful nature championing everybody in the photographs,” Henry tells It’s Nice That. “I love that it is the young people photographing each other, I think it sends out a powerful message which shines throughout.”

Upon visiting Grange Farm, Henry caught a realistic glimpse of what life is like here. “It’s different for each person who lives on Grange Farm, as no two experiences are the same,” he shares. “I remember first seeing the buildings and being amazed by their structure.” To best summarise, he points us in the direction of a poem written by Dani N’Guessan, one of the young leaders of the estate who penned her experiences of living on Grange Farm. In an extract, she writes:

“Behind the court you feast your eyes on the array of artwork made by our very own hands. A ball comes out of nowhere, just missing your head and you turn round to see young ones racing past you with shopping trollies from Waitrose down the road.

“Intrigued, you walk closer to watch, only to find yourself being pushed with great force by a six-year-old. (Yes the six year-olds here are that strong!) Your dizziness from the Waitrose rollercoaster fades as you smell the BBQ in the air and the bass of music vibrates throughout your entire being.”

Above

My Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

This lively spirit is exuded throughout the work in Grange Farm Book. Within, you’ll see the kids nose-deep in prop making and face painting, enjoying themselves as they learn the process behind making an image. “The idea is about giving the young people a platform to express themselves and tell their own stories,” says Henry. Subsequently, subjects are captured in mid-play, swinging about in sequins as they adorn themselves with hats and stickers, tossing stuffed animals or fruits into the air. Other images depict a less candid style of documentary photography, where the subjects pose directly into the lens – sternly, but with a strong demeanour. If anything, it’s a sharp comparison to the suburban backdrop of Grange Farm that stands behind it, almost looming in the air as it reminds the community of their final moments in the estate. Speaking of the recurring themes that have risen from the project, Henry explains that many of the topics are “unavoidable” and shouldn’t be ignored. “I think the background of the existing housing of Grange Farm juxtaposed with new builds in construction sites says quite a lot in itself socially, in relation to the pureness of the kids and families playing together in the photographs.”

Above

My Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

“The book is about demonstrating that passing the camera is also passing the power, to let the young people shine and take the stage.”

Henry Gorse

GalleryMy Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

GalleryMy Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

Henry will never forget the moment that 11-year-old Blessing became enamoured by the medium format camera, just five minutes after showing her how to use it. “Before we knew it, she was directing the whole estate in mini shoots, shouting at me for light metre readings and more film,” recalls Henry. A prominent image of hers remains as one of Henry’s most memorable, that being a depiction of four girls posing in front of the camera with their faces painted blue. It could easily be from an iconic album cover from the 90s. Another key memory of Henry’s was when guest artist Stephanie – who also lived on multiple estates herself – hosted a workshop for the young people to make their own crowns, symbolic in the way of promoting positive self-reflection. In a snippet from what she wrote about her experiences, she says: “To be honest, it was a workshop as much for me too, because I still struggle daily with my own self worth and belief. I hope even in a small way, this day helped us collectively realise we truly are the royalty not just of our estates, but our little worlds.”

Above

My Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

Grange Farm Book proves that there is no right way to take a picture. There’s no set rules for who can get behind the camera, who to collaborate with or who to photograph. Rather, photography should be accessible to all, and it’s important to give a voice to the people you’re lensing. This project – plus the continued work of My Yard – is thrashing traditional notions of documentary photography, which has, historically, been dominated by the white man, the voyeur and the elite; those looking in at the lives of their subjects which are far removed from their own. “It was a conscious decision to facilitate Grange Farm to make their own photographs of themselves as, too often, we celebrate exploitation within documentary photography,” explains Henry. “The book is about countering this and demonstrating that passing the camera is also passing the power to let the young people shine and take the stage.”

Henry and the wider team are setting an example of how community-led projects can impact the wider industry. With structures akin to this one, both documentary photographers and brands have the power to “uplift communities” so long as they put more conscious effort into the projects they commission. “I think anywhere you look there is a lack of creative opportunity and vision, especially for young people,” states Henry. “In a photography perspective, I would like more community-led projects to be at the centre of documentary photography, as the narrative is under the control of the people and not projected in a way which maybe could undermine them – which has been a big problem within documentary and fashion photography, with outsiders looking in and taking. This was about giving back and elevating the kids.”

Above

My Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

Above

My Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

Hero Header

My Yard Changemakers: Grange Farm Book (Copyright My Yard © Changemakers)

Share Article

About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.