Acme Studios — #37 The GLC and Acme

Supporting Artists since 1972

#37 The GLC and Acme

50 stories from The Acme Archive

The early history of Acme is intertwined with the Greater London Council (GLC), who formed a mutually beneficial relationship facilitating the renovation and rent-paying occupancy of derelict, often “blighted”, housing stock, where Acme was able to recycle hundreds of houses to support over 500 artists.

Set up in 1963 the GLC was responsible for running essential services, also sharing in the running of roads, housing, city planning etc with the London Boroughs. At this time, East London was still riddled with WWII bomb damage, and in the early 1970s it wasn’t uncommon to see streets lined with corrugated iron fronted houses. In the winter of 1972, David Panton and others approached the council about using some of the derelict houses due for future demolition. The council would not lease these buildings on an individual basis and instead suggested they form a housing association and charity. After a lot of back and forth with the Council in County Hall, then refusing to leave, in the spring of ‘73 the newly formed Acme Housing Association formed by 7 friends were offered two buildings.

Also in 1973, Labour took control of the GLC on a strongly socialist platform. With new housing powers, the GLC sought to tackle the problems of overcrowding and poor housing conditions, not unproblematically the solution was to move people to the suburbs creating satellite towns. This still left huge amounts of housing stock in the East End facing demolition. After spending three months doing up those first two houses on a very learn-as-you-go process, using the initial houses for themselves to live and work in, their contact at the GLC, Sid Metcalf, called them with 8 more houses to pass on. As time went on Acme and the GLC had struck a deal, taking on more and more properties, applying for grants from the Arts Council and the GLC to renovate and make safe.

This was a favour that went both ways, Acme was solving their issue with unused housing stock and no incoming rents, with the GLC, as David Panton describes, unwittingly acting as “patrons of the arts” by providing artists with affordable places to live and work in the city. Acme then became the largest single user of short-use houses in the whole of London. This unheard-of new resource led to an influx of artists coming to the metropolis to set up homes and studios in the 1970s with new opportunities to live and work afforded by Acme’s low rent housing. This helped hundreds of artists establish themselves professionally, the effects of which can be seen in the thriving arts community of East London. Many of the houses in these areas, for example in what is now known as the Lincoln Estate, have conservation status, in part due to the artist tenants doing up their houses and saving them from demolition.

The property boom of the 1980s meant that housing stock dried up and Acme’s acquisition of properties had to change track. The GLC was extremely unpopular with the Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, and so in 1986 the GLC was abolished with its powers absorbed into local boroughs and central government. Due to this, all housing stock leased by Acme was to be sold off, Acme tenants were eligible to buy the properties and so at the 11th hour those that could afford to, piled into County Hall to save their houses. This marked the end of the fruitful relationship between Acme and the GLC