Q&A: The Greenside Mural Restoration Project

559657_406666812677725_97133567_nInterview by Billie Jenkins

The Greenside Mural restoration project is one of those rare but wonderful examples of a community uniting over a cause and the end result being something much more than the original goal. Greenside Primary School was built by Erno Goldfinger, the Modernist architect of Trellick Tower fame, one of only two schools he masterminded in his prolific career. The build included the commission of a mural by another influential architect Gordon Cullen. Once a point of pride, and the star on the end of its Grade II* status, this mural fell into disrepair and was covered by a red velvet curtain until the Friends of the Greenside Mural came to arms and began a campaign to restore it to its former glory. A combination of Arts lectures, events and a good old fashioned rallying of support have led the group to achieve their goal, and on the 10th of May their event Bouncing off the Wall! will unveil the new, restored work. Yet more than the mural itself, which is a fantastic piece of fifties artwork, the lectures may continue and a community has built up around a love for the schools unique heritage. We caught up with Kate Fishenden, who headed the Friends of The Greenside Mural and organised the Arts Lecture programme, to see how it felt to finally have made it happen.

What makes the Gordon Cullen mural so significant for the people of Hammersmith and Fulham, and the students of Greenside school?
It should be significant because it’s what gives our school, Greenside Primary, the star on its Grade II* listing. We know this because the sister school, Brandlehow in Putney is pretty much identical but has no mural – and is only Grade II listed! And that’s a really amazing thing for a C20th local primary school. But honestly – it was not significant as any children or parents who had been at the school in the last 20 years were probably not aware of it, until we made it the centre of our campaign. We made a point of its importance, how it was linked with the architect and architecture of the school, its historical significance with the school’s diamond jubilee in 2012 the same as the Queen’s, part of the post-war new Britain, and how the subject matter could inspire and link to the current curriculum.

In your press release you mention not everyone at the school was initially on board, how did you rally up support?
The mural was unloved and generally disliked – old fashioned and a bit worn. Our hero schoolkeeper, Richard Maynard, had covered it with a red velvet curtain which had stopped it, just, from being painted over – but I think its days were numbered. I didn’t so much rally support as win over the Chair of Governors who made the case to the Governing Body that they had a responsibility not to allow the mural to fall into a worse condition. They allowed us to raise money for it and we promised that we would avoid eroding any potential funds that the Parent Staff Association would raise for general school support. There was a small number of parents that were keen on it either visually (it’s very fifties) or because of its cultural significance – some both. They became the core mural team and the start of ‘The Friends of the Greenside Mural’. Gordon Cullen was/is a huge figure in the architectural world – so that was an important factor for those with architectural knowledge/backgrounds. I knew Norman Foster was a Gordon Cullen fan, and he quotes him as one of his heroes. We managed to get an early donation from the Foster Foundation, which was a real boost and paid for the Condition Survey.

The project has built up an interesting collection of artists and practitioners around the project, how did you get such a great momentum?
Hard work, constant communication, a huge personal effort, undying enthusiasm… jeopardising my career… building on contacts to gain credibility as we went along.

What did it feel like when you realised you were going to succeed your goal of restoring the memorial?
A plan worked through and achieved – my daughter leaves the school this year and I’m glad I succeeded before she left. I’m looking forward to seeing it – the restoration has been going on for the last 2 weeks but I have been unable to get to see it yet!

Aside from being able to restore the mural itself what have the community got from the project?
The Greenside Arts Lectures were a great coming together of artistic interest – I wanted to develop Greenside School as a local cultural hub. Several people have asked if I can carry on organising them even though we don’t need to raise any more money! I think many people have experienced the feel good factor of having a significant piece of cultural heritage on their doorstep – dare I say a sense of municipal pride? I’m hoping the Bouncing Off the Wall! C20th Graphic Arts Fair on 10th May will be a grand finale of mid-century admiration and community spirit.

Do you have any advice to any groups who also want to protect their local heritage but are not sure how to get the ball rolling?
If you personally want to see it done, restored, preserved whatever – go for it – but don’t expect any help. You need lots of energy, a patient and useful partner (who will love you whatever), flexibility, the ability to persuade, adapt your goals, contact anyone you can – help is a scarce resource that you will find in small specific nuggets. It’s helpful if you can enthuse a small group of reliable supporters as a core team. Creating community events that people want – without feeling it’s just for a good cause – help the campaign enormously. And make sure you get the top professional advice you can afford before you get too far in. Our campaign was immeasurable helped by having Alan Powers, author, expert on C20th art and architecture, Chair of C20th Society, as a supporter. He gave us gravitas and credibility – and great copy for our prospectus.

Bouncing off the Wall! takes place on May 10th, from 11am – 5pm at Greenside Primary School, Westville Road, London, W12 9PT. As well as unveiling the newly restored Gordon Cullen mural there will be a C20th Graphics Arts Fair with Eric Ravilious wood engravings and other fun activities.

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