In Autumn 2021, as people, businesses and organisations around the country began to consider their next steps whilst negotiating the ongoing threat of Coronavirus, young people at Kingston-based charity Creative Youth, in South West London, were hatching a plan…
That plan was Taste of Kingston. A five-day global food trail taking local people on a journey around the world via hospitality businesses and high streets in Kingston’s town centre. Nine local businesses with connections to global cuisine were involved; from Parisian brunches at Haché, to Middle Eastern flavours at The Cheeky Pea, and the Chicago-inspired menu of Woody’s Bar and Kitchen. Alongside this, seven artists collaborated with the businesses to create bespoke events to draw people through their doors.
Taste of Kingston was produced in collaboration with several local partners and stakeholders. Beyond the nine businesses taking part, the project was funded by Kingston Council and we consulted with local LEP Kingston First, Kingston Chamber of Commerce and Riverside Walk. Juggling the many expectations of those involved was challenging – especially as we all felt so passionately about the regeneration of our local area.
But ultimately, everybody shared a vision. We knew arts and culture was the perfect way to celebrate the diversity of Kingston’s local hospitality sector.
The Taste of Kingston Mural at The Undercroft on the Thames riverside marked the start of the trail. Street artist, teacher, and traveller LeSpleen was supported by Young Creative Max Percy to run ‘street art’ inspired workshops with the community walking along Kingston’s riverside. These workshops inspired LeSpleen to create a mural representing how people, art, food, cuisine and culture came together during Taste of Kingston.
LeSpleen X Creative Youth’s mural also showcased broader plans for The Undercroft space – a new multi-arts creative space being developed by Creative Youth, set to open later in 2022. It will provide a space to support young and emerging artists, make way for more co-creation projects and celebrate Kingston’s diversity, heritage and local community.
Particular highlights were those activities which saw artists collaborate with businesses and use their creativity to celebrate the diversity of Kingston’s hospitality sector. DJ and art historian Melissa Baksh’s ‘Global Sounds’ mix, for example, was perfectly paired with a Chicago-inspired menu for an evening of eating, drinking and dancing at Woody’s Bar and Kitchen.
Right from the start, the businesses involved emphasised the importance of digital marketing – something Creative Youth knew we could help with. Local filmmaker ABundyFilm was hired to produce a Taste of Kingston promo video. This captured the vibrancy of the businesses, creative activities and our local community. Meanwhile, Young Creative and Creative Talent Programme artist Eshé Photo collaborated with businesses to shoot bespoke photography with creative flair.
As a result of our collaboration with local funding partners and Creative Youth’s own input, every artist involved was paid, but their creative activities were provided to the businesses for free.
Everyone was involved with artistic direction, including the businesses, and brought endless ideas to showcase their connections to global cuisine.
By the end of Taste of Kingston, businesses had curated an art activity celebrating their global food offer; filmmakers and photographers produced creative digital content; and Kingston’s riverside was brought to life with a new public mural inspired by our community. Crucially, we had driven footfall back to high streets and hospitality businesses which remained empty for most of 2020 and 2021.
Louise Coles, CEO of Creative Youth had this to say about the project: “I was very excited that we were able to undertake this project as part of the High Streets Recovery funding. It has indeed demonstrated the importance of the arts and culture, and young people’s creative role in contributing towards the economic regeneration of local areas and communities. All the ideas and implementation came from the young people we work with. We are keen to build on the existing and new business relationships we have nurtured as we move forward in the development of plans to launch our new creative space alongside the river in the heart of Kingston – a space which is also part of a wider public realm regeneration programme”.
If Taste of Kingston has inspired you, here are three tips for organisations who want to use arts and culture to celebrate their local community and hospitality sector.
Working with so many stakeholders was key to Taste of Kingston’s success – but our consultation could have started even earlier. Then we could have held meetings with all partners together, to make this a truly co-creative and collaborative process. Reaching out early is important for arts organisations wanting to get involved in wider local regeneration schemes and business plans.
Everyone involved– businesses, local people and stakeholders – discovered how creative they could be when given the tools to realise their vision. Seeing them collaborate with emerging creatives, provide artists with paid work and share this with our local community – especially as an emerging visual artist and producer myself – was hugely rewarding.
Include your Community
All our activities were free, creative and publicly accessible. Taking our artistic practice out into the town’s key high streets and cultural, food-related hotspots meant that we engaged people who arts organisations may not typically reach.
Taste of Kingston injected culture, creativity and inspiration into the town centre. From the six new volunteers, staff members and emerging artists hired through the project, to Chakra Indian Restaurant reporting over 3,000 visits to their website during the trial and as many as 550 members of the community attending creative events; Creative Youth were thrilled to use arts and culture to support Kingston's regeneration.
Archie O’Neill works in Community, Learning and Participation for charity Creative Youth