Canning Town Caravanserai – an urban laboratory
Lucy Schofield about the Trade School
Kick-starting a new generation of public spaces: Canning Town Caravanserai (CTC) lies close to the Olympic venues and is expected to have both local and global impact, before, during and after the Olympic Games.
This East London grass-roots project brings together community, art, enterprise, entertainment, gardening, cultures – and trade. Business always has been a significant part of a caravanserai, on the world famous Silk Route as well as now parallel to the Silvertown Way.
We meet Lucy Schofield who is involved in helping to organise a season for the Trade School (with Laura Olivia and Taty), which is hosted by the CTC.
Together with Laura Billings and Tessa Brinton who are involved in setting up the London Branch Lucy works on a concept of trade which runs on barter. No money changes hands (which might be helpful in times of economic crises).
It is not a bad location for learning trade: The proximity to the Olympic walkway will bring an estimated 20 000 people per day past the site of CTC.
Lucy, how does the Trade School work?
The Trade School is a self-organized learning space that runs on barter. The first ever Trade School began in New York and now, only 3 years later, the coop has spread across the world to 10 more locations, including Milan, Singapore, and of course London. In April 2012 four Londoners got together and launched Trade School London opening with 13 classes in their first season, hosted by FARM:shop Dalston, an urban farm / cafe in Hackney. And now Trade School London is going outdoors in Canning Town’s very own Caravanserai’s open-air classrooms.
“Barter for instruction” allows people who have a skill (at anything) to share it with others who are interested to learn, in exchange for one of the teacher’s requested items: objects, artwork, advice, a service or food. The power of sharing is just about anything.
What is the most important ressource of CTC’s economy?
Definitely skills. The ethos of the Caravanserai is that value and learning as equally as important as a money-based economy, and therefore one of the key components of the scheme is skills sharing. People can use the Caravanserai as a site for both learning and teaching without monetary exchange, and on a trust-based system. We don’t have much money, but we do have people resources: volunteers, skilled community groups and friends in the local area. A lot of our materials are donated from local building sites, from the Olympic park and the ExCel exhibition centre.
It is perfect that we are south of Stratford and the Olympic Park, opposite a major Olympics transport hub and along the Olympic walking route to the ExCel Centre, which will host several events for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
When people passing by they can see vibrant, adaptable, open courtyard, and running along one side there are small micro enterprise units and bustling production spaces where innovative and sustainable business ventures are invented or re-imagined. Towards the back of the site we’ll build a half pipe for skating and next to it an open landscape.
What is the impact on the Borough?
We promote entrepreneurial activities and encourages business start-ups and incubator opportunities. But things like this do not happen over night.
Kind of a global market then. Will the Trade School be there after the Olympic games?
I hope it will be settled then. At the moment we built up the physical and social manifestation through engagement and activity. Long-term CTC is a living manifesto for a new generation of public spaces. I believe in the idea that CTC is like the ancient caravanserai predecessors will be a destination, an exemplar of Newham’s policy to attract people to live, work and stay.