Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico

Go to…

thin shavings of wood on a rustic wooden stool ;

Creativity takes courage: Rediscovering my inner artist with Civic Leadership Academy

Michelle Li
Civic Leadership Academy alumna and intern at 575 Wandsworth Road

13 October 2021

King’s Civic Leadership Academy is a paid opportunity that connects students with projects designed by community organisations across London. Civic Scholars commit 300 hours of their time over nine months to deliver work that enhances the impact of their placement organisation, addressing issues like mental health, poverty, education and homelessness.

Here, CLA alumna Michelle Li opens up about her time at 575 Wandsworth Road, a property managed by the National Trust, and the role this experience has played in her journey to reconnect with her inner artist.

When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer–say, travelling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

As a Biomedical Science student, my academic life has primarily been logical, numerical and methodical. As a result of the excessive amount of time I spent studying, I gave up an innate part of human growth – my creativity.

There was a disheartening loss of respect for artistic endeavours and creative outlets. With the help of the Civic Leadership Academy and 575 Wandsworth Road to push me out of my comfort zone, I’m slowly starting to rediscover what I had lost.

A house? A museum? A work of art?

575 Wandsworth Road allowed me to broaden my horizons, push me out of my comfort zone and most importantly, explore my artistic side. 575 Wandsworth Road, a small National Trust property, is an unassuming terraced house that sits on the side of a busy road. From the outside, it looks plain and ordinary, but inside it is anything but that.

Throughout the property, ornate hand-carved fretwork adorns every surface, created by the original owner, Kenyan poet and civil servant Khadambi Asalache. I found that whenever I was in the house, it was like a never-ending adventure. There was always something new and breathtaking to see each time I visited. This is one of the many reasons why I love the house.

Intricate Moorish fretwork woodworking at 575 Wandsworth Road
Images ©National Trust Images/Robin Forster

Lessons learnt

Through exploration of creativity and just simple observation of the house and its art, I’ve summarised a few lessons that I believe anyone can relate to and learn from.

1. There isn’t a definitive answer for everything

If the house was like a problem that needed to be solved or a concept that needed to be understood, we would end up with a multitude of solutions and explanations – all of which would be valid arguments.

2. There is beauty in imperfection

The wooden fretwork designs were asymmetrical, had nails sticking out of them, had pencil markings that Mr Asalache had drawn on and were left with rough finishes. All these aspects to the carvings would usually render them imperfect, but there is a seamless beauty to this imperfection.

I found that whenever I was in the house, it was like a never-ending adventure.– Michelle Li

3. Creativity is a simple, effective and powerful tool for connection

During workshops inspired by themes derived from the house, I got to see perspectives and hear renditions of life that I had never heard or even thought about before. It was an absolute joy and such a heartwarming experience to be in those spaces and feel the emotional tie between all the participants.

4. You don’t have to be good at a creative artform to try it

Like it, appreciate it, try it. If it makes you feel good, do it! It’s a great excuse to have fun and spend time with friends and family.

Being a part of the 575 Wandsworth Road team has undoubtedly played a huge role in my journey to reconnect with my inner artist. I find it quite funny how I have no artistic prowess at all and yet managed to thrive at a place that prides itself in its creative influence and artistic spirit.

It goes to show just how much you can learn if you just step out of your comfort zone. I encourage you to take that step and see what you can discover. “Creativity takes courage”, but so does doing something you’re not familiar with.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend visiting 575 Wandsworth Road. Click here for the website and some pictures and here to book a tour. Don’t forget to bring up the CLA with the staff there!