Interview with Ben Messih, Heritage Education Manager at the South London Gallery


At the Fire Station you’ll have the opportunity to visit free contemporary art exhibitions, experience artist events and take part in learning activities. You’ll be able to explore our archive for the first time and participate in a new programme of heritage activities in the newly furnished archive and education space that your donations will help kit out. We speak to Ben Messih, Heritage Education Manager, about how this new programme will explore heritage in dialogue with contemporary art.

What’s the most exciting thing for you about the new building opening in September?

The opportunity to play host to groups in a way that we can’t always currently facilitate at the South London Gallery. Many of the Fire Station’s spaces have an intimate or domestic feel to them, supporting our approach to working with small groups over prolonged periods of time. The Fire Station will offer the SLG the opportunity to return this once public building back to the gallery’s local communities through a sustained programme of activity at a time when space and services are at a premium.

How have you been working towards the opening?

I’ve been working with Oliver Goldsmith Primary School to launch a new weekly after school club for children aged 4 - 11. Working with the artist collective One of My Kind (OOMK), we established a child-led printing press, the Big Family Press, which will move into the Fire Station in September. We’ve also been working on a year-long commission with artist Rory Pilgrim, The Resounding Bell. Developed through a series of intergenerational workshops the commission will culminate in a series of short films and a performance. This summer, I’ve been working with Peckham-based film-makers Anna Merryfield and Shamica Ruddock and a group of people at the Copleston Centre, on The Archive is Personal, a project where participants each take a turn to cook for the group and share their personal connections to the recipe. Working with our Archive and Records Manager, Lucy Inglis, we’ve launched a new volunteer programme, which, in addition to supporting the development of our archive, has ushered in the SLG’s new oral histories programme.

The Fire Station will host free contemporary art exhibitions and events. What are some of the activities visitors will be able to take part in?

New creative heritage workshops for children and their families will take place at the Fire Station every Saturday afternoon. We are currently developing a programme for older people, including support for people living with dementia and their carers. Our ground floor Archive will host monthly drop-in Open Archive sessions and displays co-curated by local history researchers. The education space in the Fire Station’s Attic will host the Big Family Press after-school club, our young people’s collective the Art Assassins, and open risograph printing sessions.

We’re really looking forward to welcoming new and familiar faces into our new home across the road! A full list of events and projects will be announced in the lead up to the opening of the Fire Station on 20 September.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far and please help us spread the word about the Fire Station.

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