More fun than Heal's or Hamley's

Kate Simon goes alternative Christmas shopping in Hackney

It's that time of year again when everyone tries to shock each other with how many shopping weeks/days/hours/minutes there are to Christmas. Before long, you'll forget all those good intentions of showing your family and friends just how much you care, by buying them interesting and original Christmas presents, and head for the high street.

But time could still be on your side if, instead, you pay a visit to Hackney over the following two weekends, when the east London borough will turn into a giant shopping mall for arts and crafts under the banner The Hidden Art of Hackney.

In a bid to become the centre of London's artistic community, studios and temporary spaces will be throwing open their doors from Shoreditch to Stoke Newington, Islington to Hackney Wick, as more than 250 exhibitors converge on the borough for the fourth year to show and sell their work.

And we're clearly not talking tat. Last year, Heal's sent its scouts here to spot new talent, as did many of the top interiors magazines. Plus, exhibitors include the likes of textile designer Cressida Bell, granddaughter of the Bloomsbury Group's Clive and Vanessa, ceramicist Dimitra Grivellis, who received special praise from Sir Terence Conran at this year's Chelsea Craft Fair, and textile artist Rachel Howard, who has designed ties for Paul Smith.

For those who haven't ventured any further into Hackney than Hoxton Square, mini-buses will be laid on to ferry visitors between venues, and guided walks will take in a bit of local history en route to various studios. Even the number 73 and 253 buses are getting in on the act, becoming moving galleries with displays of drawings by local school students of historic buildings in the area.

And you don't have to have the budget of a Heal's buyer to pick up a potential work of art here. Price tags range from pounds 1 for a hand-made Christmas card to pounds 65,000 for the rather more unusual "exhibit" of a studio flat - now that's creative thinking.

The Hidden Art of Hackney, various venues, 29-30 November and 6-7 December. For more information, call 0171 729 3301.

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