I first encountered them when I was helping Spacemakers turn Brixton’s Granville Arcade into something more interesting, and their company The Brickbox was at the heart of that. While other people brought new market stalls, food shops and fashion boutiques to the rundown 1930s building that was originally London’s Jewish market, The Brickbox brought the fun. I met them later, while I was working on the Pop Up People project, working in Tooting Market. Again, they were rather unmissable in the way they brought polite anarchy, naked creativity, sideways thinking and a burlesque brashness to a space that had seen better days.
Barrett – an artist who has worked at the Brighton Festival, LIFT, Bradford Mela, Shunt Vaults and the ICA – is a big, loud, tattooed presence wherever she is. She’s tough, takes no nonsense, but is incredibly lovable. Her brassiness would make her a perfect East End pub landlady. In a market, amongst the traditional calls of the (mainly male) traders, she is a perfect fit.
Freeman also has an arts background. She’s worked as a producer at Shunt Vaults, LIFT, Wandsworth Arts Festival, Lambeth Country Show, and Nottingham’s Demo Project and has managed projects for Penguin Books UK, Dorling Kindersley India and Pearson Publishing. It’s her ability to have the same creative spirit as Barrett but to be grounded in that production background that makes them a perfect team.
Their philosophy, which is pretty much ‘yes – let’s try it and see what happens’, is exactly what the high street and our unwell markets need right now. They are producing some good examples of what can be done on small budgets with big enthusiasm, and should be more widely known. Leeds, Coventry and Rochdale – your markets need The Brickbox Ladies.
There aren’t a lot of people working in regeneration, urbanism and planning who you’d like to actually hang out with in your spare time. But if it’s Barrett and Freeman* asking you out for a night, make sure you say yes.
The Brickbox Ladies (who have their own hashtag on Twitter) are Dan Thompson’s first nomination for the Queen of the High Street blog. The photo is by Laura Kidd, taken during Pop Up People’s visit to Tooting Market.
*incidentally, a good name for a music hall duo or a pair of Wild West cowboys