Ain't no party like a Walthamstow Garden PartyDominic Mandrell argues this doesn't have to be the end for Lloyd Park's free summer festival
As a regular participant in the Walthamstow Garden Party, I learned about the cancellation of the festival earlier than most, although with no more fanfare or explanation than the rest of the borough received. After eight years and six well-attended and much-loved free events in Lloyd Park, an email landed in my inbox on 27th January this year to tell me it was all over.
In the months since, I have had a host of questions about this decision but my efforts to get answers have met with little success. The annual festival was the result of a partnership between local creatives, Waltham Forest Council and the Barbican and, as recently as last March, Barbican directors were committed to see it return after a Covid-induced hiatus this July. Subsequent board reports do little to illuminate when this changed, why or even who made the call; a baffling lack of transparency for a publicly funded arts charity.
When I approached the Barbican, they were unwilling to say much beyond the statement published on their website, which states that “the world looks very different now than it did back in 2019 and continues to be a time of real challenge for so many of us”. The statement, issued jointly with the council, insists their “long-term creative partnership” will continue, also giving thanks to Arts Council England for its continued financial support. I, and the local creatives who made the festival what it was, are evidently expected to sit tight and wait while they decide “what will emerge” from its departure.
For me, the “legacy” of Walthamstow Garden Party is perhaps the biggest sore point and unanswered question of the whole affair. In the early days, there was often talk of the community eventually owning and running the festival once the Barbican inevitably stepped away. One of the Barbican’s stated aims on its website is “to develop interests, skills, confidence and careers”; surely an exit strategy that empowered local groups to continue the festival would have fit perfectly with this ethos.
I’m sure I’m not the only person unhappy to see this local festival taken away and eager to see if it could be revived, this time by the community itself. I’ve started a petition to send a message to the council but would also like to meet anyone interested in exploring the feasibility of a community-run event at Ye Olde Rose & Crown pub at 7pm on 13th June.
It’s impossible to guarantee if we will be able to take this on - the challenge may be too steep - but at least we can have a good crack at discussing it. With enough names on the petition, we might even put pressure on the Barbican and the council to give us some support.
Sign the petition calling for the return of Walthamstow Garden Party here
See more of Penny Dampier's photography at her website