More than your average mall, The Mercury is a community focused shopping centre based in Romford. They run a full programme of events throughout the year for all age groups and interests, spanning crafts, painting, film, photography, architecture and so much more.
The Mercury has been a great supporter of The Big Draw for previous years, and we’re so excited to have them as part of our festival once again. We talked to Natalie Bays about their upcoming events, the importance of creativity within the community and their partnership with local cultural organisation Havering Changing.
Interview: Lucia Vinti in conversation with Natalie Bays
We’re really happy to have The Mercury as a sponsor partner of The Big Draw once again! Could you let us know a bit about the centre and how you use it as a place to engage the local community?
The Mercury is a community focused shopping centre with an ethos of having more than just shopping occurring on the malls. We run everything here from film festivals, older peoples clubs to light shows, exhibitions and gaming events to ensure that our community have a place to go and socialise and have fun. We are really lucky to also be a partner of local cultural organisation Havering Changing to really get people out and experiencing cultural activities in their hometown.
In October you’re bringing back your monthly drawing club, which has been on hold due to covid. What does your drawing club entail and how can people get involved?
The FREE art Thursday club is ran by local artists Nigel and Gill and is a place for all ages to get into drawing and creativity. It is free to join and is every third Thursday of the month between 2pm – 5.30pm. It starts with a calm watercolour class with Nigel and then turns into an afterschool drawing activity with Gill where whole families can draw together, using a range of materials. We like the idea that if you are an artistic parent, you have a place to socialise and draw without the kids being turned away, and if you have a creative kid – they might just get you into drawing too!
And do you have any other workshops coming up that you’d like to share?
We have lots of free creative events happening in Romford over the big draw festival month – with a week of creative workshops at Halloween. Local Artists Brenan & Burch will be creating a spooky mural with kids on Wed 26th October as well as pumpkin tote screen printing on Monday 24th, craft sessions on 27th – 28th and a special creative kids club on 28th / 29th where you can make and take home your own Halloween lantern. Havering Changing will be spreading the creativity wider with lots of colour in the town with a Diwali festival in Romford Market on 22nd, where you can have a go at Rangoli patterns, have a hand-drawn henna pattern and a Diya making workshop.
We think it’s great that you encourage creativity in a more unconventional environment. To you, what are the benefits that drawing and visual literacy can provide people in their everyday life?
There are so many benefits to both being creative and experiencing culture in your day to day life. It is proven that creativity can make you feel well, and cultural experiences can make you feel much more connected to your community. Through arts we learn more about who we are, and how similar we are to others by celebrating our differences. We hope that the events that we run in the shopping centre improve our shopper’s sense of belonging and that they have a safe and welcoming space to enjoy here. Havering Changing is also helping to really provoke who has access to visual literacy locally too – by homing into the geographic areas with least engagement in the arts is and providing bespoke activities for those areas, chosen by people from their own communities.
Our Big Draw theme this year is Come Back to Colour which is all about capturing, celebrating and finding joy - how do your events this year fit in with that theme?
This year Havering Changing have been centering their broader activities in Romford’s YMCA, online and most recently in Rainham. Workshops have been led by artist Lauren Haider who guided participants drawing through the things that had brought people joy during the long covid national restrictions. Some top things were nature, friends and family and treats. Lauren then themed the workshops around these, giving people a chance to learn to draw one of nature's most colourful specimens, the butterfly in some workshops, whilst in others giving people free choice in the pop-art inspired workshops. We can see they chose to focus on ice creams, possessions like their bike or computer, pets, cakes and nature features again.
You’ve also been running a great series of events called ‘Architecture Adventure’ with your CPP partner Havering Changing. We’d love to know more about this partnership and some of the collaborative events that took place over the summer!
Architecture Adventure was a brilliant collaboration where we were able to join our resources for some fun activities surrounding the effects of architecture on nature and the environment. Some of the standout activities included a chainsaw carving day by artist Matt Darge which saw a squirrel emerge from a large log, this sculpture will be placed in one of our local parks. We also had drawing workshops with ‘bird’ artist Lucia Hardy who took us to a local park to draw ducks and doves and then together create a beautifully coloured ‘20 room bird-box hotel’ to be installed in a tree at the centre. We also had Masterplanners live! A workshop activity for young people aged 12 – 19 in urban design and architecture which involved setting a plan for a disused car park in the town. Their dream design for the space was a huge two-tiered garden with activated food stalls and music areas incorporating bee hives and natural habitats for local wildlife. As usual we also re-created Romford town as we would like to see it in 1:10 scale in the middle of the shopping centre!
Have you got any particular stand-out memories from any of the previous events you’ve run at the Mercury Mall?
We have a gallery at The Mercury called Daniel’s View (which was actually was installed using the prize money from the Big Draw awards in 2018). Over the years we have had a number of fabulous exhibitions, but one that stands out was this year by a local artist called Hannah Davis who installed large self portrait photographs. Her work surrounds creating ‘different worlds’ and the work was spectacular. We found that having an exhibition of such context and quality here really lifted the aspiration of what a shopping centre gallery could be. Our shoppers found this so inspiring that we even found that we had a usual group of schoolgirls who would specifically go and sit by the gallery to do their homework. It really proves how a creative area can change an environment.
What have you learnt from putting on workshops in the past and what advice would you give to any other people looking to engage the community through creative events?
I would like to think that we are quite well established in putting on creative and cultural events at The Mercury now – however you should never underestimate the added quality that a good partnership can bring to your work. It is always good to keep looking out for new people to work with, and try something new once in a while – even if you aren’t sure whether or not it will work. It is this type of experimentation that can take your creative workshops from interesting to superb. We are extremely happy to have teamed up with Havering Changing this year to add a new dimension to our audiences.
Thank you Natalie - we can't wait to see how your upcoming events go!
Click here to see a full programme of events at The Mercury
Registrations are open for The Big Draw Festival 2022: Come Back to Colour! Find out more about the benefits of becoming an organiser here and other ways to support The Big Draw's mission here.