Big name in the art world to leave Soho Jobcentre
Rob Sharp is a freelance journalist specialising in arts and culture. He was on staff at The Independent from July 2007 to December 2011, first as a features writer, and then as the paper’s arts correspondent. He has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. For more information visit his website, www.robsharp.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday 25 August 2011
It is a Soho landmark, the first of its kind in the country, made famous by its celebrated "benefits supervisor", Sue Tilley. For the past 11 years Ms Tilley, or "Big Sue", who features in the late painter Lucian Freud's most famous work, has toiled as the manager of the Jobcentre in Denmark Street, Soho. The centre is under threat of closure, with Ms Tilley set to leave Soho for good.
The Jobcentre, which opened in December 1930 to supply workers to hotels, is "four weeks into a six-week consultation process", according to a Jobcentre spokesman. The number of staff and equipment has been pared back, with some staff fearing it will fall beneath the funding axe.
Its modest surroundings are in sharp contrast to the price paid for Freud's 1995 painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, for which Ms Tilley modelled in the early 1990s. In May 2008, the painting was sold to Roman Abramovich for £17.2m, a record for a work by a living artist. Freud died last month.
"This centre might be closing but the good work that Jobcentres are doing will go on," said Ms Tilley. She had been offered a post in a Tottenham Jobcentre, but rioting has damaged the building. She said she was currently deciding what part of London to move to.
Ms Tilley has maintained a scrapbook of the building's history. Several years ago, she held an exhibition of its past, attended by Rupert Everett. "It was the first Jobcentre in the country," she said. "It was set up exclusively to deal with the hotel and catering trades and they compiled a central register of all the labour, including valets and maids. We're very proud of its history."
The original Jobcentre had separate departments for men, women and juveniles, she said, with other rooms for employers hoping to interview staff. The service was free, with the centre's opening being reported in the national press.
Ms Tilley was introduced to Freud by the performance artist Leigh Bowery in 1990, and posed for him a year later. The serial killer Dennis Nilsen, the Muswell Hill Murderer, who killed 15 men and boys between 1978 and 1983, is another well-known former employee of the branch.
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