Picture showing the illustration process

About the Project

‘A hackney autobiography’ was a project by On the Record, that recorded the history of a unique cultural institution called Centerprise (1971-2012), and created learning resources inspired by the place and its people. On this website you can discover more about Hackney’s history as told by Centerprise on our app, encounter the people we interviewed, read some of the books Centerprise published and find out about the book we published: The Lime Green Mystery: An Oral History of the Centerprise Co-operative. Please contact [email protected] with any queries, comments or thoughts arising from this website.

What was Centerprise? Centerprise was a double fronted bookshop and coffee-bar on 136-138 Kingsland High street. It was once described as a ‘lime green mystery’, because it’s inclusive approach to community work made it stand out from other shops. A typical customer might pop in for a coffee and come out equipped with timely welfare advice or inspired to write their memoirs. If you explored the three storey building you might come across people campaigning against the dehumanising treatment meted out in psychiatric hospitals, a woman-only performance café night, adult learners improving their literacy and publishing books in their own dialects and much, much more.

What was ‘a hackney autobiography’? Running from December 2014 until May 2017, ‘A hackney autobiography’ examined how Centerprise functioned as a co-operative, what Centerprise did and how it touched and was touched by the places around it, through the following activities:

  • A free mobile app which puts Hackney’s creative & radical past onto the map through immersive Audiotours and bite-sized Sketches. It’s a mix of GPS technology & old fashioned storytelling. Explore the food cultures & frontlines of Dalston, birth & madness in Homerton, or a lost Island near Rectory Road. Take a sonic bus journey with the singing strikers of Well Street. Dip into 60 Sketches on the themes of Hackney Writers, Community Action, Education and Contemporary Voices. For the best experience download on Google play and the App store from April 29th. Audiotours & Sketches here
  • A Centerprise Young Writers Audiowalk created by Kirsty Walsh, a young volunteer, with the support of On the Record.
  • 34 oral history interviews recorded with workers and regulars now archived in the Special Collections and Archives at Bishopsgate Institute, London. Discover the interviews here
  • Our book: The Lime Green Mystery: An oral history of the Centerprise co-operative. Read more here
  • Key Stage 2 and 3 teachers’ resources, which aim to encourage children to see themselves as writers and explorers with a unique perspective on the places they live. Download here
  • ESOL teachers’ resources, inspired by the work of the Reading Centre at Centerprise. Download here
  • An archive of publications, documents, objects and photographs kept in the Special Collections and Archives at Bishopsgate Institute, London, richly catalogued through interviews and discussions with donors. A small selection is available on the Library page here
  • A series of mini projects with Hackney Quest youth club, St Dominic’s Catholic Primary School and Core Arts producing songs, poetry and creative writing inspired by Centerprise’s work. Discover the work produced here.
  • Workshops  were also held with ESOL classes run by Hackney Learning Trust, Hackney Carers’ Centre and Hackney Caribbean Elders’ Organisation.
  • Devised and delivered a summer school at Bishopsgate Institute that interpreted the history of Centerprise.
  • Trained and co-ordinated more than 50 volunteers engaged in oral history interviewing, research, archiving and interpreting heritage.
  • Held regular steering group meetings to direct the course of the project.


The project would not have been possible without the talent, time and enthusiasm of the following individuals and organisations:

  • The Heritage Lottery Fund, our funders
  • The Bishopsgate Institute Library staff for providing professional training and continuous support while we were cataloguing and conserving the enormous archive
  • Michelle Johansen from Bishopsgate Institute for her help devising the project’s summer school amongst much else
  • The Federation of Worker Writers & Community Publishers digital collection
  • Sophie Polyviou and Patrick Henry, photographers
  • Joanna Layla, illustrator
  • Jack Hurst & Isa Suarez, music composers
  • Stephen Cooper (millipedia) and Andy Walker (Periscope), web designers
  • Peter Brawne, book designer and Claire Garner, copy editor
  • A fantastic team of volunteers who conducted interviews, research, archiving, digitization, interpretation, composed music, performed poetry and writing and carried out numerous other tasks: Daniele Alexandre, Olivia Bellas, Charlie Berry, Charlie Clarke, Liesbeth de Block, Wallis Eates, Ruth Geall, Farhana Ghaffar, Richard Gray, Julia Gray, Ruth Geall, Maggie Hewitt, Jack Hurst, Elin Jones, Judy Joseph, Bea Moyes, Merilyn Moos, Mary Mullen, Sean Mullervy,  Sarah Okpokam, Nell Osborne, Dominic Simpson, Eva Turner, Winstan Whitter, Richard Wright and Beth Young.
  • Volunteers from UCL who catalogued and performed Centerprise writing. Centerprise workers and users who donated to the archive, gave up their time to be interviewed, wrote things for the mobile phone app, responded to numerous enquiries, guided the project through attending steering group meetings
  • Nana Fani-Kayode, Maggie Hewitt, Roger Mills and Richard Gray for their help creating the schools’ learning resources
  • ESOL learning resources by Alice Robson
  • Modus Arts who gave us access to their recording studio
  • All the photographers, writers, musicians and artists who allowed us to use their or their parents’ work, including Sara Boyes, Centerprise Young photographers group, Hugh Boatswain, Maggie Hewitt, Roger Mills, Alan Denney, Ruby Maron, Neil Martinson, Sherlee Mitchell, Merilyn Moos, Ingrid Pollard, Anna Sherwin, Doffy Weir
  • Former workers and regulars from Centerprise who gave up their time to be interviewed and sit on the steering group, shared their books and documents with the archive, produced written reflections and responded to many enquiries
  • All the people who created or recorded materials for the mobile app, especially Oleander Agbetu, Toyin Agbetu, Camille Allende, Hugh Boatswain, Barry Davis, Christine Edwards, Eloise Joseph, Nana Fani Kayode, Remi Fani Kayode, Tia Fani-Kayode, Sally Flood, Bernadette Halpin, Clive Hewitt, Maggie Hewitt, Judy Joseph, Jaki Loudon, Gary Molloy, Merilyn Moos, Bea Moyes, Roger Mills, Manjula Mukherjee, Sean Mullervy, Jan Noble, Andrew Roberts, Irene Schwab, Anna Sherwin, Heather Tracey, Cherice Vincent, Wajid Yaseen, Kirsty Walsh, Winstan Whitter & Simon Wroe.

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