Angie Gough meets Hackney Arts founder Sophie Thompson

Hackney Arts was founded in 2016 by Artskicker and social entrepreneur Sophie Thompson. With over ten years of experience in arts and entertainment and a passion for social change, Sophie set off on a mission to use Hackney’s thriving arts scene to encourage creative exploration and to build a community where everyone is welcome.

How long have you lived in Hackney?
I’ve lived here since 2014, and very quickly felt at home. It’s such a vibrant, diverse area, full of creative people and artistic spaces.

Where did the idea for Hackney Arts come from?
I’ve always gone to events and galleries and felt the benefits of that. I wanted to share that positive impact with as many people in my community as possible, so with a startup grant from Unltd, I put on a series of workshops led by local artists, using a share of income to provide free places.

artist Nelly Ben Heyoun in her studio in one of the trains on top of Village Underground in Shoreditch

Village Underground featuring artist Nellie Hayoun

How important is social impact in what you do?
It drives everything we do. The type of classes and short courses we do are all about giving people access. We’re affordable. Everything is beginner level. It’s all about having a go, with no background required. We support local artists who lead the workshops and give them a platform to share their work. We’re also working with Spitafields Crypt Trust, supporting addicts with recovery and rehabilitation and I’m very excited to be planning events with a refugee drop-in centre in Dalston.

Most fun of all the workshops you’ve done?
I took a group to visit artist Nelly Ben Hayoun in her studio in one of the trains on top of Village Underground in Shoreditch. She has worked with everyone from NASA to the European Space Agency, and we got to speak to her about how she makes really ambitious projects happen.

Our stargazing event ‘Print the Moon’ at Netil360

Hackney Arts’ stargazing event ‘Print the Moon’ at Netil360

What do you see as the positive impact from people doing a workshop or class?
There’s a very definite personal uplift that people get – not just in terms of learning a new skill, but in having time to create and get away from everything. Having fun, with no judgement, it’s good for people.

There’s also a positive effect in terms of community and the group. People come together to create and learn. Often in London we can be very disconnected from each other, Hackney Arts offers a very special and a way to meet and connect with new people.

Is it difficult to keep a Social Enterprise going in a time like this?
We have all the same challenges as any other business, so YES! But, Hackney has just been awarded “Social Enterprise Place” status, which means it’s been identified as an official global hotspot of social enterprise activity, which I think is very exciting. There’s a strong ecosystem in Hackney for Social Enterprise, and a supportive community here that Hackney Arts is proud to be part of.

What’s coming up for Christmas?
Oooh… well, when it comes to Christmas, we’ve definitely got you covered… We’ve got a Wax Ring Workshop with Emma Aitchison at the Geffrye Museum on 2 December. Then on 6 December we’re Wreath Making with florist Lizzie Thorne at Proud East. And you can Make Your Own Herbal Christmas Presents on 16 December with Hackney Herbal.

Also, for any local businesses who’d like to use the festive season to give back to the community, we’re pioneering our “Give a Gift of Art” programme. Businesses buy a package of art classes that we’ll deliver in the community. Details on the website or get in touch for more info.

And beyond?
We’re continuing with our public programme, planning loads of fun workshops in the new year, and will continue to work with local business who want to give the gift of art to the local community.

Where will you be for Christmas?
Things have been really busy this year so I’m looking forward to some down time.. in South Africa! But I’m already stocking up on all my gifts before I go and I’ll definitely be stopping in to Glass Works on Kingsland Road for my outfit (well, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some new threads!).

Sophie’s perfect Christmassy day in East London
I’d start my day by going for a walk, either down by the canal or in Victoria Park, I love being outside and East London has lots of green space which is great. Then I’d go and check out some local markets, I try and buy things from local businesses as much as possible, I love browsing the stalls and shops at Well Street Market or at Columbia Road. Then I’d grab all my mates and go for a Turkish in Dalston, so many to choose from! We’d finish up with dancing at Brilliant Corners or Dalston Superstore.

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