Lucy Sparrow prepares to fit out her Cornershop which launches in Bethnal Green on 1st August 2014
“I’m going to lie down in a dark room for two weeks and just not move and have someone feed me grapes” dreams Lucy Sparrow as she thinks of the days beyond the Cornershop.
We are meeting at her home in Muswell Hill, a leafy suburb in the north of the city. Since first meeting over four months ago, Lucy has spent her time sewing, sewing and sewing some more. Her home is cram packed full of produce except that it’s all made out of felt.
The Cornershop is the project, successfully funded by Kickstarter, her intention is to re-create a traditional corner shop made out of nothing but felt and wool. It is an epic undertaking, altogether at the end of the project she will have sewn together just short of 4000 items, that’s four thousand!!!
No wonder then that Lucy dreams of grapes although I do wonder if even in her dreams those grapes just might be made of felt too. A typical day, says Lucy, is getting up around 6.30am, putting the kettle on and then making goods for the corner shop till around 8pm at night. “I sew all the time, on birthdays, anniversaries and even my sisters wedding although I was really minimal on that I only did a bit in the evening.”
Felt has encroached on every corner of Lucys house. She directs me to a desk drawer in a cupboard “there’s a really good box of cornflakes in there” she says. Every nook and cranny reveals a different box packed full of cuddly goodies. Tins of spam, chocolate bars, shampoo, cereal and goodness knows what else are everywhere. My favourites though are the fruit and veg because they all have little faces “I made the mistake of saying that if I raised ten thousand pounds on Kickstarter I’d put in a fruit and veg stall” she laughs.
Lucy’s original Kickstarter target was just two thousand pounds and it didn’t take long to exceed it. It’s a good job she did though as she had banked on funding from the Arts Council which as yet hasn’t been forthcoming. So far she is on her third application and hopes that it will be third time lucky, the money from the Kickstarter having long since been spent although she has managed to get some additional funds from Tower Hamlets Council.
Was there anything she learnt from the Kickstarter campaign? “I learnt so much” says Lucy “namely, like make sure that I make all the rewards beforehand, I ended up making a cornershop before I’d made the actual corner shop” she laughs. The rewards all had to be made bespoke and as the campaign was so popular she had lots to make. Not that she’s complaining, the Kickstarter campaign really put Cornershop on the map “I was so underprepared on what I thought Kickstarter could achieve” she tells me. It featured as one of the staff picks on the site and once that happened it really started to capture the imagination. In addition to the dizzy heights of her previous interview with Inspiring City she’s been featured in Time Out, the Huffington Post and daytime TV.
So what is it that seems to have caught the imagination with the Cornershop project? “I think that my art is very childlike, everythings cuddly and everythings brightly coloured. It’s really hard not to smile at the felt” she says. “I think it is so completely inoffensive it’s hard not to find it endearing and I think because of that you can approach subjects that some people might think, oh that’s so boring especially when you are wanting to get peoples attention to alert them to a particular subject like the decline of the British High Street. Whether that comes across in the way people think about the felt corner shop I don’t know but it has certainly captured people’s imagination”
I am struck by Lucys tenacity, she tells me that her social life has been pretty non-existent since launching the campaign “it’s certainly the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken” she tells me. The ambition of the Cornershop is such that at times it must be easy to wonder just exactly what she has got herself into. From now until the opening date on the 1st August 2014 there will be more long hours sewing and then there’s the task of fitting out the shop itself.
The shop itself will be able to be found at number 19 Wellington Row close to Ravenscroft Street in Bethnal Green. As bonafide a cornershop as possible (it is indeed on a corner) the building was actually a former launderette. The inside will need a bit of a spruce up, a sweeping of the floors and not so much a lick of paint but a layering of felt. Lucy has been investing in fixtures and fittings courtesy of Ebay. She has shelves, an icebox and till all ready to go albeit with a splattering of fabric.
But even that hasn’t been easy “there’s been six locations on the cards at any one time” she tells me. The search for the appropriate venue to host the cornershop has been challenging, not least because, “trying to pitch to someone over the phone and telling them about a felt corner shop is just the hardest thing”. Luckily for us though, it seems that someone has listened.
Lucy Sparrow was interviewed at her home in Muswell Hill on Tuesday 1st July 2014. ‘Cornershop’ will open in Bethnal Green on 1st August 2014 and will run for a month. It can be found at 19 Wellington Row, E3 7BB and all the furnishings and goods within the shop will be made of felt and wool. You can keep track of Lucy’s progress by following her facebook page or her blog.