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Oxford House as the Focal Point of Bethnal Green

Starting on the 10th of November, Oxford House will be holding a very special exhibition. ‘Oxford House Nexus’ is a photo exhibition exploring the relationship between Oxford House and the community within Bethnal Green. The photo exhibition will explore how the relationship has changed over time, as well as exploring other historic buildings in Bethnal Green. Oxford House caught up with one of the three collaborators for this project – Keith Greenough to find out more.

How would you define the Oxford House Nexus exhibition?

The idea for Oxford House Nexus came from a conversation I had earlier this year with John Ryan, Oxford House’s CEO. Last year we had a successful collaborative exhibition which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of social reformer Charles Booth, who had strong links with Oxford House. John and I tossed around a few thoughts about a new exhibition for this year. The idea of asking a small group of photographers to explore Oxford House’s links with its past and the local community came from this and Oxford House Nexus was born.

Is there a particular message the exhibition is trying to convey?

The messages conveyed by the exhibition are many and complex but at its heart we have sought to explore the social relationships between Oxford House and its dynamic community across time. It is a collaboration between John Umney, Sarah-Jane Field and myself. Each of us has expressed this concept in our own way. John’s photographs look back to the founders of Oxford House – Keble College Oxford. John has gathered traces and marks from within the confines of Keble College as evidence of their initial sense of purpose and re-habituated these within contemporary Oxford House. Sarah-Jane’s work draws attention to social progression at Oxford House over time, and also asks questions about how education has been, and might continue to be delivered in the future. She prompts us to compare and contrast people and the social environment of the late 1800s with today’s world – a world in which we may well find the notion of work needs to be rewritten.

My work is a quiet tribute to five public buildings in Bethnal Green, including Oxford House, which have collectively shaped the community’s history for more than a century. The photographs show the buildings’ interiors without people, encouraging the viewer to look carefully at the spaces represented and to reflect on the roles they have played, and continue to play, within the community.

What makes a building historic?

Naturally it’s to do with the building’s age but also it’s about the nature of architecture and the function it has performed over time. In the case of the buildings featured in my work they are all listed buildings so they are recognised as being places of significance which should be preserved.

What about Oxford House in particular made you include it in your photographs?

What I find remarkable about Oxford House is the sheer length of time it has been helping people in Bethnal Green. Yes its role has evolved over time. John and Sarah-Jane’s photographs draw attention to this but it has been a constant force. I am also fascinated by how the historic beginnings of Oxford House are still very much in evidence in the architecture of the building. The original features sit alongside more modern elements, such as the gallery space, which is completely contrasted by the Victorian chapel. I hope our exhibition will help Oxford House to survive and prosper into the future. The net proceeds from print sales at the exhibition will all go to the redevelopment fund.

What are your hopes for the exhibition?

My hope is that it will draw in lots of people from the local community and more widely and by so doing broadcast how Oxford House came to be, what it does today and why it should be preserved.
By Thufayel Ahmed

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