Over the last few months, we have been exploring Knowle West’s past, present and future as part of Future Festival. We celebrated with an exhibition of archival footage and local voices. Together, we honoured the rich history of Knowle West and shared our hopes for the years ahead.
To gather local voices, we collaborated with The People Speak, a group of international artists, cultural producers, science communicators and activists based in East London. The People Speak sparked conversations about Knowle West through their interactive pop-up talk show, ‘Talkaoke’. This involves an illuminated round table with a host sitting in the middle on a swivel chair. This can pop up nearly anywhere – it’s previously been spotted in shopping malls and in parks. Guests come and go as they please, sitting around the outside of the table. They are handed a microphone when they’d like to talk, and their points can be enhanced with all sorts of sound effects. The talk show is entirely in the hands of the guests who come up with the conversation topics and it’s up to the host to keep everyone engaged.
The day before Knowle West Fest 2023, The People Speak rocked up to Knowle West Media Centre in their van full of props to train up some Knowle West residents to be Talkaoke hosts. They ran two workshops to build confidence in talk show skills – one with young people and one with adults.
As part of the workshop, everyone tried out a practice-run of Talkaoke. The topics were entirely chosen by the workshop participants, ranging from the housing crisis to ‘where in Knowle West would you hide from zombies?’ A few of the adults enjoyed it so much that they even chose to join the young people’s workshop in the afternoon. It was great to see people coming out of their shells and into the swivel chair, sparking lively conversations across multiple generations.
Armed with their newfound skills and props, our new hosts could be found spinning in the middle of the Talkaoke table the next day at Knowle West Fest. Throughout the day, all sorts of topics were covered by the people of Knowle West – from the Levelling Up Fund to party busses to communication between generations.
A few weeks later, The People Speak visited us again. This time, they were shown around Knowle West by Frank – an active member of the community and recently trained Talkaoke host. Frank showed them a few key parts of our area, from Broadwalk to Inns Court Gardens. Together, they gathered audio of nearby sounds and interviews with residents.
This audio was combined with recordings of the previous Talkaokes at KWMC and Knowle West Fest then edited by sound artist Jo Elise. The final audio tells the story of various topics close to the hearts of local people:
To share these stories, we hosted a ‘Back to the Future’ themed exhibition and listening party at Filwood Community Centre. The event explored our rich history, current reality, and hopes for the future. The audio played at various listening stations and people were invited to write down their responses. These responses included “bring back community spirit with shops” and “bring back ‘Queen of Knowle West’!”.
Alongside this, we celebrated our past by displaying lots of archival photos of Knowle West dating back to 1984 and watched some clips of Knowle West TV which was first broadcast in the 1970s. We also had a bus tour through the area to uncover what the future in Knowle West could look like.
We had a lovely evening chatting over popcorn and chips while listening to past and present stories. We are so excited about Filwood Broadway’s £14.5 million Level Up Fund and how this could support a more thriving neighbourhood; it feels particularly important during this time of transformation to reflect on where we have come from and the direction we are heading in.
Special thanks to Futures Festival for funding this project.