A year ago Chloe Latchford had dropped out of university and struggled to tackle isolation. Now, spurred on by creativity she’s seen in her community she wants to nurture the next rising artists in Bethnal Green.
Latchford, 23 was working a barista job after dropping out of art school in Falmouth, where she felt ‘out of place. ‘I felt so lost,’ said Latchford, ‘It was so different from London during lockdown – I felt very isolated and cut off, I just couldn’t envision being there and finishing my degree and I missed working.’
Returning to London, Latchford struggled to find a job in the arts. Looking for a way to practice her creativity, reconnect with her community and tackle loneliness she was directed towards Magic Me. With over 3 million people in the UK saying they suffer from feelings of Isolation, she is not alone.
Magic Me is a charity which seeks to strengthen intergenerational connections in the community by bringing together people of all ages to make art, in order to create a stronger, safer community. Latchford now works full-time at the charity as a project manager. Magic Me often takes their work into old people’s homes and community centres in Tower Hamlets, and they produce artwork as a community at the end of each programme.
The 23-year-old, who grew up in Bethnal Green was part of the artwork traineeship which is a full-time, paid opportunity for young people from working-class backgrounds in Tower Hamlets to gain access to the arts sector. This traineeship is currency funded by Westfield and Foundation for Future London.
Pott street-based Magic Me held ‘Confidence Workshops’ that Latchford cites as a big contributor to her sense of self today. Here they would encourage trainees to talk about their particular insecurities, and for Latchford, these were ‘one of the most enjoyable parts’. She added: ‘Those sessions really helped me to work out where my strengths and weaknesses lay. Even just having the ability to speak openly in group settings about these things before I was in my job as project manager was so important for me.’
Latchford said she was experiencing feelings of loneliness before she started at Magic Me. ‘I think a lot of people have shame around loneliness, even though we all experience it,’ Latchford added.
However, after taking art workshops in old people’s homes and working with the team at Magic Me Latchford re-discovered this sense of belonging to a community that she had missed.
‘Even with myself I’ve felt very much isolated from my local community but not now. The way at Magic Me they bring people together – you always know that you’re in a Magic Me space and it’s going to be magic and warm and inviting’
One project in particular stuck out to Latchford that involved people of all ages deciding on a word they missed in their community. Through brainstorming and creating a word bank one group who were focussing on “love” dismantled a chair to represent the love missing from their community.
Latchford said for her, this reinforced ‘how creative’ everyone, of all ages could be. In turn, this helped her relax back into her home and community and she added that she ‘built really lovely relationships’ through the art they made together.
This re-connection was crucial in affirming the importance of her home in Bethnal Green to herself. She added: ‘It’s home to me. I’ve never known any different, it’s diverse, and that’s what I love about it – there’s so much to learn about there are so many cultures age groups and backgrounds. I’d been used to that at school growing up here, and I’d missed that.’
‘I’m very close with my grandma – and our participants at MagicMe remind me of that relationship – it does feel like my extended family. People who have taken part always pop into my head and I’ll just give them a call and check in and see how they’re doing.’
Latchford described how Magic Me has changed her relationship with her community, saying she’s ‘lived in the local area for so long and there’s so many people that I see almost every day and I know absolutely nothing about them.’ She added: ‘I would never have thought to go up and start a conversation with them.’
‘I was so shy growing up and really struggled to speak to people. I’ve gone from feeling very much isolated from my local community, but now, after Magic Me – I’m more than happy to give people a call, I don’t even think twice about talking to anyone – even today I am more than happy to talk.’
Now that Latchford has a full-time role at Magic Me she is preparing for the new trainees coming next year. She added: “I am so looking forward to supporting the trainees as well – as they are going through the exact same process that I did.’’
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