Acme Studios — #20 Beck Road part 2 - the ongoing impact of Beck Road

Supporting Artists since 1972

#20 Beck Road part 2 - the ongoing impact of Beck Road

50 stories from The Acme Archive

Previously we looked at the establishment of the Beck Road community and the street at its peak. This story picks up this narrative with campaigns to save the street and its legacy.

In 1984, the artists formed a residents’ association to discuss issues of concern to all residents, including maintenance, council services and the future of the street. Acme supported this group in negotiations with the GLC to secure permanent tenure of the street, which would allow for restoration of the buildings. Later, in 1988, Acme and the artists formed the Beck Road Arts Trust as a formal fundraising appeal to enable the artists to afford to purchase their homes under the “right to buy” initiative that had been implemented by the Conservative government in order to generate income on and reduce spending on social housing stock. This appeal was featured on BBC2’s Open Space in April 1988. Eventually, while the fundraising did not reach its target, a significant number of artists remained in the street – either through the purchase of their homes or as tenants of a new housing association set up by former GLC staff with the intent of keeping some former council housing as a form of social housing.

The impact of the Acme artists on Beck Road has been threefold – the built environment, the arts world, and the local community.

The legacy of the work that artists put into the repair and maintenance of their homes in Beck Road can now be seen in the status of the road. Beck Road was designated as a conservation area in July 2021. The appraisal in support of this designation references Acme and the artist community in the significance of the area stating that “This unusual history and strength of the co-operative has ensured the area’s long term preservation.”

Beck Road is commonly referred to as “the street of artists” and is a regular feature of Open House weekends. In 2017, “House Work”, an exhibition curated by Lola Bunting, daughter of some of the earliest Beck Road artists, Karen and Peter Bunting, in their home gallery, used the Acme archive for content on the history of the road.

The artists who moved into Beck Road in the 1970s have also had a direct personal impact within their communities. Maggie Walker was resident at 54 Beck Road until her death in 2022. Following her death, Tower Hamlets Schools Library Service have paid tribute to her, both as a driver for the school library service, but also for the personal value she brought to their community.