Gnome House on Blackhorse Lane has been gently evolving for some time now, gradually turning in to something new. The brick built building with its rows of windows and distinctive façade languished for a long time behind flaking white paint. It looked unloved and unwanted, a pile of bricks seemingly bolted on to the small cottages next door, a pile of bricks that didn’t seem to have a purpose. I think many of us would probably pass it by without really paying any attention to it. But thanks to a great deal of hard work by a band of local residents, all that has changed. Gnome House has well and truly been put back on the map.
Before I go any further, lets deal with the important question, why on earth is it called Gnome House? Is it a retirement home for little chaps with white beards and pointy hats? The name comes from the sites past as a manufacturing base for the Gnome Engine. These fighter plane engines were built on this site during World War One, and it’s good to see that history reflected in the buildings name. So if this building isn’t a home for garden gnomes, what is it? Gnome house is in fact a brand new community space and cafe, a creative space that’s available to be used by the people of Walthamstow, and it opened its doors on Saturday the 2nd of May.
I went along to the opening event yesterday, starting at 2pm the event ran all the way through to 11pm and featured live music, African drumming, a bouncy castle and hog roast. We arrived not long after 2pm and the forecourt outside the building was already pretty busy. As often happens when we go somewhere with our small dog, a swarm of kids came over to say hello to him. So I left my other half doing his Pied Piper of Hamelin routine, and went in to have a look at the inside of the building.
The ground floor space consists of a cafe, meeting room, print making studio and large community space which is available for hire. Walking through the front door the first space you see is the cafe, it has a kitchen/serving area in one corner lots of space for tables and chairs. I imagine that during the warm weather (when it eventually arrives) the cafe tables may spill out in to the forecourt which seems to be a bit of a sun strap. The cafe leads on to the main space of Gnome House, a very large white walled room that can be used for all sorts of activities, performances, exhibitions, and community meetings. For the event on Saturday the room was set up as a performance space with seating at one end and a stage at the other, and it seemed to work well. Next door to the main space is the print making workshop, the home to Inky Cuttlefish and artist Anna Alcock. Impressive looking printing machines with large wheels and metal cogs fill this space. The upper two floors of the building aren’t part of the community space and will instead be turned in to office space during the second phase of development.
I like that a new mixed use has been found for this building. A community project downstairs and a commercial project upstairs. This kind of multi use development seems to be a good way of getting the most of large buildings like this. What I found particularity impressive about the Gnome House community space, is that it has been steered and will be run by a group of local volunteers. The Gnome House Community Interest Company has a team of four volunteer directors. This small group have already put in a mammoth effort to bring this building back to life and open up the ground floor to community use. All of the directors were on site on Saturday talking to visitors with real passion about this project, talking about how it got to this stage and where it might go in the future. Blackhorse Lane just got that little bit more exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this space is put to use. For more information on Gnome House, click here.