The Walthamstow Poetry Trail

In the summer of 2012 I was commissioned by Artillery to curate the second annual Walthamstow Poetry Trail as part of the E17 Art Trail. The Walthamstow Poetry Trail brought poetry to public and private spaces all around E17 from 1 -16 September 2012. Residents and visitors were invited to indulge their poetic impulses at readings, on the page, in windows, galleries and on pavements.

The Walthamstow Poetry Trail: more than 50 poets; 15 local artists and illustrators; pupils from two schools (George Mitchell Primary and Secondary school); a live Twitter poem led by The Drawing Shed and Jacob Sam La Rose; poems commissioned by William Morris Gallery to celebrate the re-opening of the gallery; performances by Forest Poets, Cheryl Moskowitz, Jacqueline Saphra and Pascale Petit; a printed anthology.

Estate Agents along Hoe Street provided funding for the project and added rhyme to their residential sales as they displayed poems written on the theme of “Bestow”.  Poets of all ages and experience were invited to get involved in the Trail. Local poets of all ages and experience collaborated with artists to create illustrated poems that were on display along the street and collected in a printed anthology. The display prints and anthology were created by Paekakariki Press, Walthamstow’s very own fine letterpress printers.

Press coverage included: BBC Radio London interview, Time Out, The Independent, Waltham Forest Guardian, Streetlife Radio interview

There were poetry events to mark the re-opening of the William Morris Gallery, home to the Victorian designer, craftsman and campaigner and an inspiration for our local and radical artistic heritage. Artist Henrietta Lynch created pop up “Poetry on Pavements” along the route and in public spaces as visitors headed to the William Morris Gallery where Forest Poets had been commissioned to create poems inspired by items in the museum collection. The Gallery played host to musical readings by Forest Poets and local award-winning poet Pascale Petit together with poetry tours.

Penny Fielding Beautiful Interiors hosted “Tales in the Tea Garden” with two stars of the London poetry scene – Cheryl Moskowitz and Jacqueline Saphra who performed poems underneath the “Topsy Turvy Tree”.

The Poetry Anthology was on sale from outlets across E17 including William Morris Gallery, Vestry House Museum, Paekakariki Press, Waterstones, E17 Art House and Penny Fielding Beautiful Interiors.

For more details about The Walthamstow Poetry Trail and E17 Art Trail visit


The creative team behind the E17 Art Trail is Artillery. Artillery is an emerging arts development organisation based in Walthamstow, North East London. Artillery draws on the interdisciplinary practice of its team to enable creative collaborations with artists and resident populations in specific locations. Artillery applies its experience in project management, curation, installation, performance, participative practice and publicity to initiate and celebrate creative collaborative projects. Artillery was launched in September 2006 with ‘No Artist is an Island’ an artist’s residency and project space demonstrating the demand for arts provision locally and the shape that provision could take.

Artillery provides opportunities for professional development and support to creative practitioners in Waltham Forest and South England. One of its core approaches to achieving this is delivering the E17 Art Trail.
What takes place during the E17 Art Trail is determined by the participants. There is an open submission process and the whole community can take part in whatever way suits their artwork.  Artists use this annual event to show new work, test out ideas, improve portfolios and update websites.

The Walthamstow Poetry Trail – 2011

Commissioned by: Artillery
Curated and produced by: Penny Rutterford

40 poets, 14 artists, 2 schools, 15 children under ten, 9 estate agent partners/exhibitions, 2 business sponsors, 1 library exhibition, 1 printed anthology

The first Walthamstow Poetry Trail took place from 2 – 11 September 2011 as part of the annual E17 Arts Trail. Local poets and artists were commissioned to collaborate on a poetry trail celebrating “Home” and “Community”. Illustrated poems from 40 poets young and old, from beginner to experienced were on display in the windows of Walthamstow Library and nine estate agents along Hoe Street. Display space was secured in estate agent windows to provide a surprising and accessible showcase for the collaborative work of local artists and poets.

Bringing words and images together, poets participating in the trail included Forest Poets (the local Poetry Society Stanza Group) and pupils from two Walthamstow schools: Winns Primary School and Our Lady and St George’s Catholic Primary School. Winns Primary School pupils participated in a workshop to develop their poems with an invited tutor. Artists commissioned for the project included members of the local Arts Club and artists from Mitre Studios, Blackhorse Lane Studios and Inky Cuttlefish Studios.

Paekakiriki Press, a traditional letterpress printers based in Walthamstow, created display prints and a printed anthology. Sponsorship to cover a proportion of the print production costs was negotiated with two of the nine participating estate agents. The anthology was also made available to buy from the local Vestry House Museum and selected art galleries in E17.

The Walthamstow Poetry Trail also played host to performances and poetic installations taking place in venues on the E17 Art Trail including Forest Poets performing at Blackhorse Lane Studios, the premiere of John Hudson’s poetry and sound installation SHED (a local memory, social document and childhood story) and Elaine McCloskey’s Illustrated artwork of Shane MacGowan’s “London You’re a Lady” at E17 Art House.

A press preview and launch event with readings from participating poets was hosted at Paekakiriki Press on the evening before the first day of the E17 Art Trail. Social media was used extensively to create and sustain interest in the Poetry Trail and related poetry events leading up to and throughout the period of the trail.

“What a wonderful addition to Walthamstow’s thriving cultural life”

“The poems in the estate agents are a lovely touch”

 “Thank you, thank you, thank you thank you….. A genius idea! I had a stroll along Hoe St at midnight and had a look at all the fine poems. BRILLIANT!”

“the printed collection looks absolutely gorgeous – I feel very proud and privileged to be in it and also to have worked with such a talented artist.”

“The book is beautiful. Thank you for all your hard work”

“On my way to work, I managed to see most of the Poetry Trail.  This really is ingenious — in Walthamstow”

The National Association for Literature Development approached me to write an account of how I managed the first Walthamstow Poetry Trail. My account appears below – it was first published in the NALD newsletter:

Local poetry for local people – a personal account of running a local literature project

Take a stroll down a typical high street and what do you see? I guess estate agents and fast food outlets. I live in E17, once famed for a greyhound stadium that has graced the cover of a Britpop album sleeve and spawning a popular boy band. Hoe Street, the busy street that leads from the tube station to the top of the High Street and a market oft purported to be the longest permanent street market in Europe, is like many other. A string of estate agents punctuated by chicken diners and kebab shops. But in September 2011 we bought poetry and art to Hoe Street with Walthamstow’s first Poetry Trail.

It’s most definitely not all doom and gloom in Walthamstow when it comes to culture. The area has a vibrant community of resident artists and a culturally diverse and locally engaged community. And for ten days each September Walthamstow plays host to an annual independent, artist led, community focussed festival which invites artists of all abilities, interests and backgrounds to take part. We have exhibitions in the local museums and galleries as well as windows, front rooms, sheds, garages, community centres, shops, cafes, and even on hedges and street lamps. 2011 was the 7th year of the festival and took place in 120 venues hosting 200 exhibitions and involving over 1200 artists and contributors.

Marrying your aims with community objectives

One evening in July I shared a pint in our local theatre pub on Hoe Street with Laura Kerry, co-founder of the E17 Art Trail. Her organisation, Artillery, commissioned me to curate and project manage the first Walthamstow Poetry Trail. The Art Trail is primarily a project supporting visual art. But this year we wanted to add poetry to the festival mix – encourage visual artists to collaborate with poets to create a “trail within a trail”. We discussed the Poetry Trail within the overall aims and objectives of the art trail which are to:

–         champion local artists and make the arts in Walthamstow visible

–         build relationships between individuals, organisations and local businesses

–         bring visitors to the borough generating an increase in business during the trail

–         contribute to the regeneration of the area by hosting creative and original events

–         celebrate local people’s achievements

–         present a high quality annual event accessible to the whole community

–         put Walthamstow firmly and deservedly on the cultural map.

The festival aims complement the wider context of the borough of Waltham Forest’s own culture strategy whose four priorities are to:

  • increase participation in arts, culture and sport across the borough’s diverse and changing population
  • generate wealth in the borough through culture
  • retain wealth in the borough by providing attractive and high quality sport and culture opportunities
  • build capacity to make possible the implementation of this ambitious strategy.

Beneath these priorities sit the following ambitions:

  • Standing out from the crowd; promoting and celebrating the borough’s distinctiveness.
  • Raising the bar; aspiring to excellence in all that we do.
  • Creating a buzz; providing people with enjoyable experiences on their doorstep.
  • Great spaces; increasing people’s engagement in creative and physical activity by making the most of our unique spaces.
  • Feeling good; enhancing health, happiness and general well-being.
  • Spreading the word; making people aware of all that the borough has to offer.

The E17 Art Trail and the Walthamstow Poetry Trail meet all of these aims and ambitions and are supported and celebrated by the borough.

So why this particular street? The festival has its own “hot spots” but in the past that hasn’t really included Hoe Street. And yet it is a main thoroughfare from the local transport hubs – an overground rail station, tube and bus station – to the rest of Walthamstow and many of the festival venues. Businesses along this street may not be seeing much of the benefit of the increased footfall generated by the festival. It’s also a busy street, we could bring art to passers-by who might traditionally not be tempted to seek out the art on show in festival venues. One key achievement of the festival has been to take art outside, to use surprising venues:art in trees; on hedges; on streetlamps. So it was high time to bring art to Hoe Street, more words to Walthamstow and poetry along its pavements…..

Find your partners

There was no budget. The key to bringing this project to life would be through partnerships and the support of local businesses. First on board, and my partner for this project, was a local business called Paekakiriki Press, tucked down a side street off Hoe Street, Paekakiriki Press is run by Matt McKenzie who had started up a traditional artisan letterpress printing company to keep alive the traditions of fine typesetting and letterpress printing. He had recently worked with a local artist and poet to create a poetry pamphlet of elaborately illustrated poems “London Rivers”. While his business has grown from his passion for creating beautifully printed and hand stitched books using traditional methods, he was also aiming to raise his profile and build his reputation amongst poets and artists seeking to publish their work. Matt offered to donate his time and resources to producing display art prints of illustrated poems, a printed anthology of the poems and a venue for a press launch.

Location, location location

And so, where to display our poems. We wanted the poems to be on display to everyone. To be visible to passers by who may not be tempted to seek out poetry. We needed display spaces that could be viewed at any and every time of the day. That brings us back to the estate agents. If there is anything lacking in Walthamstow and other main streets in Britain, it sure ain’t estate agents. They are crammed like crowded teeth down our streets. Perhaps not traditionally viewed as art venues, they do have a part to play in the regeneration of our towns, attracting new residents and boosting our local economies. And they all have prime window displays and ready made exhibition spaces.

Sell, sell, sell

If you’re really committed to producing art in your local community with few funds then you’ve got to sell. You need to engage with local businesses, understand what is important to them, what are their commercial imperatives and then you’ve got to go out there, in person, and talk the talk. Like some candidate on TV’s “The Apprentice” I pulled together my key selling points, got out my “order book” and pounded the streets visiting each estate agency in turn – asking to speak to their office managers. I told them about the Poetry and Art Trail, quoting figures about increased footfall, highlighting the business benefits of local community engagement, stressing the importance of culture in the mix of local regeneration. And they liked it. Some were resistant, some needed head office approval – for which I had already prepared proposal letters as follow up. But nine estate agents in this one street ultimately signed up for it, donating free display spaces in their windows and in some cases sponsorship money to cover a proportion of the anthology print costs. The plan was coming together. We had exhibition space, all that was missing were poems and images.

Dating offline and online – don’t worry, everyone is doing it

I have a confession. For most of my years living in Walthamstow I have commuted into central London to do my day job, socialised close to my workplace in the evenings and then headed home to my flat where I’ve closed my front door and kept myself to myself. Until I abandoned my job in the City a few years ago to work in the arts, I barely knew my neighbours let alone any poets or artists who might be living in the area. Let me tell you this – if you want to run a local arts project then it just won’t do if you don’t know anyone. You’ve got to get out there. You’ve got to take a sincere interest in what is happening in the community in which you live or plan to run a project. If you say you want to attract local and diverse audiences and encourage local artists to work and collaborate with you, then you need to show you mean it and have an interest.

But still, what can you do to reach the people out there who you might not know. There are many established social networks out there, and don’t be afraid, a shared interest is a great way to meet people without fear of embarrassment. It’s not like dating, well not entirely, but you may have to put yourself on the internet!

First do your homework. I found the local arts group, poetry reading groups, the local Poetry Society Stanza group, art galleries, film makers. I invited myself along to meetings and asked if I could give a short presentation on the proposed Poetry Trail. Then I planned my attack on social media. Like a military exercise I tweeted, facebooked, ambushed local blogs. I was overwhelmed with the response. You might already know this, but I didn’t – the community and locally oriented twitter and bloggerspheres are awash with networks for local writers, artists, reviewers and potential audiences. I found myself in the enviable position of having too many potential contributors and not enough display space. But my local library came to the rescue, they were interested in what we were doing with the Poetry Trail and bought into the aim of seeking display spaces that were visible at all times of the day and night and which would be seen by audiences who might be new to poetry. One library window faces out to our local Post Office. Many mornings each weekday a queue forms outside the Post Office along this window – perfect. What’s more, I could use as much space in this window as I needed.

So once I had my exhibition space, 40 poets and 14 artists on board, I knew we had a poetry trail. I wanted poets young and old; published and unpublished; experienced and beginner; and I had them. I chose a theme for the poetry that would encourage a range of creative responses and which would be sympathetic to the exhibition spaces in the estate agents’ windows: we asked for poems on the theme of “Home” and “Community”.

Going back to school – find the energy

I was commissioned for this project just a matter of weeks before the end of the school summer term but I was keen to include poems from a local school. Through a local book group I found a primary school teacher who was especially enthusiastic and energetic and wanted her class to get involved. There wasn’t much time. But it was her motivation and ability to influence her school head that gave us the chance to get a poet and “imaginative practice” workshop tutor into the school to work with the pupils to develop their poems. The tutor, Becky Graham, took them out of the classroom, out from behind their desks, to explore their physical and sensory responses to their ideas about home and community and then to craft those ideas into poems. That investment paid dividends with some wonderfully creative poems from children as young as six.

Never shut up – just keep talking

Once I had found my networks: people tweeting and blogging about local arts events; artist studios; other festival participants; community centres; local councillors and press contacts and even my MP, I just kept talking, tweeting and messaging. Once I was head down on my project: matching up artists/illustrators with poets to collaborate; proofing poems and setting up a launch event; I was quite preoccupied. But I didn’t shut up. I had found my networks and I needed to maintain interest right up to and beyond the start of the festival and Poetry Trail to make sure people came to see the poems, turned up to any associated poetry events and gave us coverage in articles, blogs and listings. I didn’t just tweet I squawked! I also sought local outlets to sell the printed anthology, negotiating preferred terms on sales commission in shops, galleries and museums. It might be art but you can’t ignore the business side of things.

The afterglow and things I have learnt

The afterglow of the trail, our Press and Poetry launch event, and all the other associated poetry “happenings” is fading, I’ve taken down the poems and thanked all the participating businesses, artists and poets and taking stock of anthology sales. We’re still in the process of evaluating the whole E17 Art Trail and, for me, the Poetry Trail in particular, but I can reflect on some of the things I learnt about running a local project. At the risk of teaching many of you to suck eggs here’s my list of five key things to consider:

  1. Is there a need and a place for your project – has an interest been expressed, are there other local activities which provide a springboard for your project or idea, are you filling a gap where nothing else exists
  2. Clearly define your aims and objectives and, if you are looking for partners and local support, how do your aims complement theirs – be they commercial or strategic
  3. What’s in it for your partners? – if you can demonstrate a commercial, brand or CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) benefit to potential business partners you may be able to get sponsorship
  4. Find your networks, cling on but be sincere – do your research into who locally is interested in your art form: twitter groups; local bloggers; press contacts; galleries; studios; museums; etc and make use of their forms of communication. Take Twitter for example: follow interested groups and individuals; use local interest hashtags. But remember, if you want to keep interest levels high then you need to commit to communicating with, and contributing to, those networks. And, once a particular project is over don’t just abandon them. Stay in touch – your network may prove fruitful and fulfilling for time to come.
  5. Don’t think you need do it on your own – seek out partners for your project, find enthusiastic people who can offer you contacts, know-how and skills you may not have or want to develop. Don’t be afraid to ask, you’ll be amazed at how willing people are to share what they know when you have an interest and passion in common.

So go on, get local.




2 thoughts on “The Walthamstow Poetry Trail

  1. hi Penny I work in Walthamstow and spend a lot of time here, I need somebody to write me a poem for my best friends wedding which is coming in March. I googled “I need a poem written E17” and you popped up 🙂
    is this a service you could provide me with please? He was best man at my wedding last year and we have a lot of fun history together so I can supply you with a lot of material. kind regards Terry Farr 07973 22 23 24
    if I am barking up the wrong tree please forgive me, could you point me to the correct tree to bark up?

    p.s. Im not a Facebook or twitter person

    • Hi there – what a lovely idea for your friend. I have often organised poetry events locally but am more of a short fiction writer myself. I can’t think of anyone I know who writes poetry for personal commissions. There are two established local poetry groups who you could approach to ask – Forest Poets who meet in the Rose & Crown PH and Coppermill Poets who meet at The Mill. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. Best wishes Penny

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