Meeting the locals: Workshop 24 in South Kilburn

South Kilburn, an hour's walk north of central London, is an estate with complex social problems, which can be summarised as having large, diverse immigrant communities, and many transient residents. In addition, the estate is mainly made up of tower blocks, built from the late 1940s until the mid 1980s and the whole area is being regenerated, with some blocks pulled down, some refurbished and many new developments filling the spaces in between. South Kilburn is in a constant state of flux, and constant change creates uncertainty and prevents people building community ties.

In the middle of the estate is a 1960s shopping area, Peel Precinct; the only shops left are a newsagent and a sandwich bar with offices, light commercial and community projects occupying the other units. The precinct has low footfall, and the police have removed all seating to stop people loitering in the area.

Workshop 24 was a project run by the Empty Shops Network with the last funding from a regeneration charity.  South Kilburn Neighbourhood Trust was one of the last Labour government's flagship New Deal For Communities areas, managing over £50m of funding over a 10-year period,  and it closed down on the day that Workshop 24 shut.

Over four months, Workshop 24 hosted 20 small projects, running 84 sessions, for 750 visitors, and made 1,000 cups of tea. The British obsession with cups of tea was actually the key to the project's success; people were initially suspicious of a new art project, run by people from outside the estate, but offering visitors a cup of tea was a quick, easy way to start conversations and break down barriers.

The projects themselves varied in size and scale, and often overlapped, creating a buzz of activity around the shop. There was a community patchwork made, encouraging older visitors to stop, sew and talk; there were guerilla gardening projects, involving students from a local college who used the precinct in their lunch breaks; there were community writing projects which took poets from the shop into local schools and community centres; and artists were commissioned to paint the shops shutters, provide illustrations inspired by the precinct and make short films about local life.

Everything was collated on Twitter feeds using the hashtag #workshop24, enabling people outside the shop to track, share and contribute to the multiple projects taking place. In addition, the project used a multi-authored Tumblr website, creating an online presence which was not just a promotional tool but also a document of four months' life in South Kilburn. This online presence also helped to bring visitors from outside the immediate area to the shop.

Workshop 24's community engagement has left a legacy of creative people thinking about developing future careers, and shown paths into work. This fed artists into a new project, South Kilburn Studios - ironically converting and then occupying the offices left vacant when the New Deal For Communities staff were made redundant. And Workshop 24 left ideas for future projects including one that may see abandoned allotments brought back to life. Finally, Workshop 24 has demonstrated a possible future for Peel Precinct, which could make it again the heart of South Kilburn's community.