Lambeth project inspired by Van Gogh in running for prestigious awards


Van Gogh Walk in Stockwell is nominated in the London Planning Awards.


By Sarah Williams

A community project in Lambeth, inspired by the world-famous artist who once lived nearby, has been shortlisted for two categories in a prestigious awards ceremony.

The Van Gogh Walk in Stockwell is in the running for the ‘Best Built Project – Community Scale Scheme’ and ‘Best New Public Space’ at the London Planning Awards, set to take place on February 4 2014.

The site will need to come up trumps over projects in Harrow, Tower Hamlets, Mayfair and Greenwich in the awards which celebrate the outstanding contribution of planners to London’s ‘urban renaissance’.

Lucy Swanson, a volunteer for Van Gogh Walk, said: “We’re very proud to be up there and we hope that it can show other people how they can make a difference in their neighbourhood as well.”

Opened in March this year on the site of the formerly named Isabel Street in SW9, Van Gogh Walk offers a pleasant pedestrian walkway and outside space for locals in an area where few have private gardens.

It is named after the renowned Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh who, as a 20-year-old, lodged at nearby Hackford Road while working for a firm of art dealers in Covent Garden.

Mrs Swanson explained how the idea for the project first came about nearly ten years ago. “In our area, like many parts of South London, there is a lot of mixed housing – a few large houses with gardens, but mainly high density housing,” she said.

“So there are lots of people who don’t have gardens to play in, enjoy, or sit out in. And so we had quite a cramped up community of people desperate to reclaim some space for themselves.”

An opportunity to make this wish a reality arose five years ago, when a development on Clapham Road opened up a resource of “Section 106 money”, the funds developers invest in the local community under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

A group of volunteers, known as Streets Ahead, started working with Lambeth Council to design a scheme which would create a peaceful outdoor space and improve the safety of access to two schools either side of today’s Van Gogh Walk, bordered by busy main roads.

The neighbourhood’s connection with Van Gogh was not widely known at the time, and the team recognised an opportunity to celebrate the historical tie and make people interested in and proud of their area.

Mrs Swanson said: “Even though he didn’t do any paintings that are famous when he was here – he was 20, when he lived here – the story goes that this was a very influential period for him, because he read lots of Dickens and Keats and looked at lots of paintings.”

In a letter to his brother in January 1874, Van Gogh wrote: “Things are going well for me here, I have a wonderful home and it’s a great pleasure for me to observe London and the English way of life and the English themselves, and I also have nature and art and poetry, and if that isn’t enough, what is?”

While the area has changed a great deal, the walk aims to restore some of the peace and nature celebrated by the artist. Van Gogh’s paintings inspire much of the planting, with sunflowers prominent in the summer and quotations from his letters at the time carved into the stone planters. 

Ben Tolputt, 23, of nearby Southey Road said he passes through the street most days and has enjoyed its transformation.  He said: “It makes you actually want to walk down it. I come this way even though it’s a couple of minutes slower for me just because it’s nicer.

He added: “It seems to be quite busy – there are always kids playing football and quite a lot of people here sitting around.”

Mrs Swanson said:  “What’s so fantastic is the amount of interest we’ve had from all sorts of different people who are now enjoying using the space in a different way and it really is bringing people out.

“You get some of the bigger kids playing basketball with the little ones or mums bringing their babies down onto the street – just to sort of sit around in the sunshine.”

The team host regular community events on the walk – such as “The Big Draw” two weeks ago, where visitors took part in drawing and painting activities. They are also working with international organisations such as the Van Gogh Museum and Van Gogh Europe to develop future partnerships.

The London Planning Awards are organised by London First, in association with the Mayor of London, the Royal Town Planning Institute and London Councils. For more information visit

Photos courtesy of Will Jennings, with thanks.

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