Tucked in to a corner of the teletubbie land like landscape behind Walthamstow town square stands the big screen. Looking a little like a recent arrival from outer space, this giant screen constantly beams images across the square to anyone or anything that happens to be passing by. The big screen was built as part of a joint project between the BBC and Waltham Forest Council. Along with 21 others around the UK, our screen was part of the network of live sites that showed the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. But now that the medal laden glory of last summer is behind us, what has become of the monster television of Walthamstow?
A friend once described the screen as the electronic version of the eye of Mordor, burning its image in to the brains of those who dare to stare in to its flickering light. The BBC, on the other hand say that the screens are “a destination for news, live coverage of BBC sport and music events, highlights of BBC programmes plus an ever-changing selection of local and national digital work and a full programme of locally run community, sporting and cultural events” Sounds amazing doesn’t it? but whats the reality? To some extent it has become part of the furniture, something that is always on but holds little interest to those who walk past, on most days its audience is made up almost exclusively of pigeons. It has been used successfully in the past, the Olympic opening ceremony attracted a large crowd, and artists taking part in the E17 art trail have made use of it. But mostly it just adds to the background noise of central Walthamstow.
Over Wimbledon fortnight I noticed that the pigeons had got some competition for the prime viewing spots. Each night as I walked past the screen, I could see that people were taking the time to stop on their way home and watch the tennis. As the tournament continued, the numbers of people watching on the big screen increased, so on Friday I decided to join them. I stopped off to see how Andy Murray was doing in the semi final, only intending to stay for a few minutes, I was drawn in and ended up staying until the end of the match. The atmosphere was really friendly, there were supporters for both Murray and his opponent and lots of people struck up conversations with their fellow tennis fans. I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed watching the match on the big screen, a screen which I had previously written off as a waste of money.
Wimbledon always gets lots of interest so I suppose it’s no surprise that E17-ers would stop off and watch it on their way home. But experiencing that friendly atmosphere and chatting with strangers made me think that the screen is a missed opportunity. I know that some local groups including schools, community organisations and the Stow Festival have been able to access the screen, but maybe it could be used for even more. Perhaps it could broadcast local events such as the concerts that take place near the town hall. Or maybe it could be used in the same way as the fourth plinth on Trafalgar Square, with a different local artist or project taking control each weekend. I don’t know what would and wouldn’t work but it would be fun finding out. Perhaps some experimentation is needed to make the big screen a bigger part of the community over which it flickers, mumbles and occasionally shines.