We went soul searching, talking firsthand to the spray can artists and supportive folk that made the party that was: Meeting of Styles UK 2015. A mash up of graffiti techniques and human energies, the event reverberated with one love across the creative movement and into the locality – leaving a lasting mark, not just on the walls of the Nomadic Community Gardens. Founder of the inner city oasis, James Wheal, explains how a trip to Berlin got him planting roots in this particular spot of East London…
James Wheal founded the Nomadic Community Gardens on a rare alcove of land in Shoreditch. An antidote to the norm, the space is all about emancipation: the graphitised walls represent a certain freedom of expression, the open entrance signifies a welcoming sense of commune, and planters sprouting greens sowed by families from nearby estates suggests at least a desire for autonomy from the machine. Heck it’s just a breath of fresh air in a concrete jungle.
How did it all begin? “I went to Berlin and experienced a couple of projects that made me feel alive and impassioned about urban agriculture,” explains Jimmy, as he’s affectionately known. “When I came back a very good friend of mine, Junior, was living in the local area and said ‘We can do something like this in this space!’ That thought coincided with this initiative we had called One Love Gets Real that was about not just having the philosophy of one love but making it real – it’s a beautiful ethos, but how can we make it impact our quality of life?”
A stint of living in Runnymede Eco-Village informed the basis for Jimmy’s approach to the Nomadic Community Gardens; “I built a couple of places there out of low impact materials from the dump tank and a very little amount of money; I think about 80 quid on each. I understood that it is a possibility to live – not necessarily without money – but without the need for money. That’s important to our health. There are ways,” he insists, of being independent of the system; “squatting, food banks, dumpster diving. I never ate better, never ever ate better than when I did that – people in Surrey wouldn’t be seen dead in a skip so the competition for food was far less than maybe London. While you’re not fully sustainable and you are reliant on lengthy food supply chains, I think it brought to life that there are loads of ways of subsidising lifestyle – and creating local resistance to overarching structures of control or power is one of the key ways we have of improving quality of life.”
His early philosophy of land activism has led to the development of this not-for-profit today, where everyone from the very young upwards comes to grow their own produce, but there is still a long way to go. “The majority of local residents in the proximity are not actually here enjoying the space in this time and moment, so I’ve realised it needs to become and be lots of things for lots of people. We need to integrate food growers, support networks, creative introductions and other social projects that encourage skill sharing and other organic discoveries of community.”
The idea of hosting murals on the brick enclose was itself by natural design; “I’ve always known there was more to it but I didn’t necessarily know what – until I recognised we’d kind of inherited this big wall space, this outdoor gallery – so in a way we sort of fell into league with graffiti by proxy of having the walls. I’ve had a really amazing relationship with Jim and Matilda, because they’re of the same mind, belief and work ethics so it was beautiful for me – making graffiti part of the fabric of the Nomadic Community Gardens. And while we’ve been looking after these once grey walls, they haven’t been bombed or tagged the whole time. There’s a number of ways everything is interconnected; whatever this is, it’s clear positive noise can reverberate and have a beneficial effect further than its immediate reaches.”