AN ACCORDIA OPEN SPACE STORY
By Paul Drew
Photographs © Paul Drew and Tim Crocker
Accordia was constructed between 2003-2011 and provides homes for approximately 1,000 people. It is a neighbourhood of exceptional architecture laid out around a garden landscape of mature trees. There is also a local shop at the centre of the neighbourhood.
Now occupied, Accordia is an identifiable mixed neighbourhood of Cambridge that has a character stemming from its distinctive buildings and open spaces. The dwellings, network of footpaths, the relationship to nature, the minimal private garden sizes, all contribute towards this character. These are features that have, in turn, catalysed a range of community interactions, which makes the place unique in my experience.
When I was on the verge of moving into Accordia with my family in 2006, I was talking to one of the site construction manages. I said that I felt like I was moving into a social experiment. He looked straight back at me and without apology said, “Yes you are”. We had, in a moment, recognised the same thing about the plan. With minimal private back garden spaces, the arena for outdoor social interaction was going to be in the public garden spaces. The opportunity for social interaction was therefore a gift to the emerging community and this was conceived as part of the original design. If a resident wants to do something more than drink tea on their terrace, it has to be in the bigger public garden spaces.
The garden spaces themselves have a range of functions. Some areas are laid out for active play so that children of a range of ages can climb and swing. Some areas are reserved to retain an ecologically rich natural environment. But importantly for the social interaction of people, there are large greens with no designated purpose. A useful term for them could be ‘loose fit’. For a village it would be the village green, for a coast town it would be the beach, but at Accordia they are the squares of lawn.
Most use of the Accordia lawns has been informal and opportunistic; a little like seeing people migrate to a beach on a sunny day. But the lawns have also generated events that the whole neighbourhood has either been involved in or are invited to. Inter-street cricket matches, community wide barbeques and Green Gyms (which is a sort of garden maintenance programme). This article illustrates one great event of 2012 which shows the sort of energy the Accordia community can generate and the network of connections it has been able to make across the neighbourhood and to schools and institutions beyond the neighbourhood.
Neighbourhoods often feel that there is not enough to do for teenagers. This is a dilemma as it is typical that as soon as activities are formalised by adults, they are exactly the things the kids do not want to do. However, on the back of some ecological enhancement measures, a group of teenagers decided to make a movie about this event. They made a Short about converting a redundant concrete structure into a bat roost and a kingfisher nesting site. On completion of the Short, they wanted to show it in a temporary cinema on one of the lawns.
With the help of a few key residents, ideas escalated:-
• The Short could be a B-movie to a mainstream production currently doing the rounds.
• Equipment could be powered sustainably in some way.
• People could bring picnics.
• Other food catering could be supplied by a resident whose company educates about food quality.
• There could be music, with PA equipment supplied by a resident DJ with power supply from one of the houses equipped with PV solar panels.
• The event could be marshalled by students at the local sixth form college, looking for credits towards Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
• Maybe there could be a bit of funding from sustainability promoters such as Cambridge Carbon Footprint.
• There could be a raffle with prizes sponsored by a local cycle shop.
All this did come to pass. The great innovation of the event was that members of the audience watching the movie would have to use pedal power on fixed bicycles to power the projector and sound system. For it to work they would have to guarantee at least eight bicycles would be in constant use in order to allow the whole audience to enjoy the show.
The main feature was decided. It was Wild Target starring Bill Nighy. Magnificent Revolution was the cycle powered cinema company booked to service the event. Some residents knocked up posters, others posted flyers to every house including surrounding neighbourhoods, students sorted out guard railing for one end of the lawn and the project all rolled forward.
About 250 people turned up to the event on 16th June, picnic rugs and hampers were laid out and summer beats boomed from the PA system, which filtered through trees. A fantastic 80 people took it in turns to sit on cycles.
In a summer where there were very few days without rain, we were lucky. When a few splashes landed on my forehead I wondered how we could pull the plug, but the Magnificent Revolution crew just told me to pull myself together. Dryness prevailed.
Other than living in a place that was designed well, no other external bodies made the event happen. It emerged from the grass roots of the place, from an idea and a bit of mobilisation effort amongst residents. Will it happen in another summer? – Possibly. Are there other events planned? Not in a formulaic way, the neighbourhood will see what it fancies as the time.
What it has done and what other events are likely to continue to do, is to build on the collective identity of Accordia. The place seems to provide the option to residents to either engage with each other or to be private. What it reinforces is that the gardens are public and communal spaces and that through living with minimal private gardens space, all residents have invested in the shared asset of gardens.
By Jacky Sutton-Adam
Photo credit: CropShare
CropShare is the story of how a bunch of urban-dwelling, local food fans become organic farmers for a few days during the growing season. It begins with a coffee table conversation in 2010 in the kitchen of Willow Farm in Lode, east Cambridgeshire between farmer, Paul Robinson and his wife Doreen and three members of Transition Cambridge’s food group. Anne, Amy and I were looking for some ideas to help us bring our vision of local and sustainably produced organic food to a wider audience.
To back-track a couple of years: since its formation in September 2008, the Transition Cambridge food group had several successful projects underway. There was a garden share scheme that matched garden owners with people who didn’t have access to land for veg growing; we ran a series of workshops to share some basic growing skills with novice gardeners and we created an online fruit map showing fruit trees on public land in and around Cambridge.
But however satisfying and enjoyable it was to encourage people to plant their own lettuce and herbs in a window box, or harvest a few kilos of home grown potatoes, we soon realised that these were small scale contributions to the local food movement. We wanted a bigger project with a wider reach into the community.
Several members of the food group wanted to establish a community supported agriculture (CSA) scheme in which subscribers supported local and organic vegetable growers by committing to buying produce in advance of the harvest and, where possible, assisting with raising the crops. But the shortage of available and viable land coupled with the group’s lack of commercial scale growing experience was a problem.
We began to see that we had missed a key element. How could we possibly hope to extend the availability of local, sustainable food beyond those who wanted to grow for themselves, if we didn’t involve those all – important intermediaries, the farmers and growers? It was time to step out of our urban foodie world and reach out to local food growers in the area. With just a couple of quick phone calls, we soon had a date for a meeting with Paul and Doreen Robinson of Waterland Organics, who ran an organic veg box scheme, supplying produce that they raised themselves on their own farm to their customers. The conversation on that damp Sunday morning in April was both illuminating and shocking.
Over coffee, Paul told us about some of the difficulties of commercial organic farming. After a couple of bad experiences with wholesale packer and processor companies that resulted in lost income from cancelled orders, he and his wife Doreen could no longer afford to employ extra staff. Between themselves, with a bit of help from their two teenage daughters, they sowed, cultivated and harvested crops, packed and assembled vegetable boxes and delivered them to around 100 customers in the area. Tragically it seemed to us, Paul had only enough resources to cultivate around 10% of their land, the remainder being left as grazing land for sheep.
Our eyes popped with surprise and excitement. We had no doubt that we could find willing farm helpers from Transition Cambridge members, and Paul was enthusiastic about the idea. A successful trial celery weeding day was planned for July, and we set about recruiting our volunteer farmers. Lode lies about 6 miles out to the East of Cambridge and is well supported by national cycle routes. Following the values of the Transition Town movement we encouraged people to lift share or cycle and arranged a cyclists’ posse so that people who were unfamiliar with the route could travel together.
We were blessed that first weeding day with fine and dry weather and the cyclists found their way without incident across the Cambridgeshire countryside to Willow Farm. We split the day with a shared lunch in the garden, after which some of the volunteers left and more arrived for the afternoon session.
Later that year, Paul contacted Transition Cambridge with a plan: would we help to sow, cultivate and harvest his 2011 crop of onions for the whole growing season in return for 100 square metres of land to grow our own onions? And this was how CropShare came about: the synergy of Transition Cambridge’s desire for a working relationship with a local food producer and the Robinsons’ need for extra labour in the fields. Before long we had assembled a band of core group members who committed to attending 60% of the work days scheduled. We kept to the format of the trial weeding day with lift sharing and a cycle posse, a choice of morning and/or afternoon work sessions, with everyone coming together for a shared lunch.
By the end of the season we had a bumper yield of 6.5 tonnes from the 2000 square metre onion plot. After harvest celebrations, CropShare members decided as a group that our half tonne share of the onion harvest would be used for awareness raising activities, such as donations to local charities and an onion-braiding session at the Cambridge Food and Garden Festival. Our core members also enjoyed an exclusive chutney-making session.
The start of the 2012 season brought even more volunteers and we were able to increase our work days to help with more of Paul’s crops. A typical farm workday starts at around 10am, Paul explains the day’s jobs: we might be weeding with hoes or some of us could be on the flat bed weeder which is faster and less physically tiring. Other volunteers might be sowing cabbage seeds in modules or planting out young squash and courgette plants. It all sounds simple enough, but it soon becomes apparent how much learning takes place: Are you holding and working the hoe correctly? Because your back will soon ache and a blister will form on your hand if not! Do you know the difference between fennel and fat hen? Both are edible, but one is a weed!
There’s a welcome sense of peace and contentment in this work, spiders and ladybirds with all manner of spot variations are abundant on the vegetation; a testament to the effect of 18 years of organic practice. The invisible chirrup of skylarks high above us, tinny scratching of hoes on dried earth and the ever-present wind whooshing over the field provides the soundtrack to our day as farmers.
Helpers move along the rows, at times silently with heads bowed in concentration, at others chatting with fellow hoe-ers. Chit chat may be simply getting to know your fellow workers, but sometimes is as rich and absorbing as a radio play, when people are moved to share stories from their families and lives.
At 12.30 we stop work and head back in small groups to the farmhouse for lunch. The route takes us past the chicken henhouse – containing some of the luckiest chooks in Cambridgeshire with a whole field to forage in, and Radio 4 playing (to deter foxes Doreen says).
Unsurprisingly perhaps, lunch is widely considered a highlight of the day: it’s a small miracle that 20 or so individuals all contribute various delicious and randomly chosen dishes and that there is always enough for everyone, and a perfect ratio of savoury to sweet offerings to boot. A typical community feast might include Dave and Ceri’s home grown potato and garlic salad, Claire’s chocolate fairy cakes, rhubarb cordial from Liz and Reggie’s home baked bread. On chilly days, Doreen will have bowls of hot steaming soup to break the chill from our fingers.
As 2012 season draws to a close, we look forward to the harvest party gathering. The relationship between the Robinsons and Transition’s volunteers is growing healthily. Considerable learning has taken place and a sense of connection and purpose within our community has blossomed. Other activities that bring together skills and needs have developed over the year, from bee keeping and scything to polytunnel maintenance.
We have no tried and tested blueprint for the future, just shared values of care and concern for the land and its abundance and a love of good food, plus a strong belief that we are making a difference.
EARLY NIGHT CLUB
By Alex Ruczaj
Photographs Nick Welsh & Nicky Hughes
Even before I had children I was always perplexed as to why clubs had to get going so late. But the older I got, and once my children came along, opportunities to dance were confined to my kitchen or the odd wedding. When I did venture to a club I had to leave just as things were getting started, around midnight. Why wasn’t there a club that started at seven or eight so you could be home by midnight? Why did clubbing have to be only in the wee small hours? Why was it exclusively for the very young? These were the questions I plagued my friends and family with.
Community projects grow from enthusiasm, from the energy and positivity of others, and this is certainly true of the Early Night Club. Two friends, Vicky Fenton and Nick Welsh – both creative types, with kids, who loved music, felt the same as me. And so we decided to try and create our own night – a normal club night, but where all the fun started earlier.
Sadly our first attempt in a local pub was a disaster. It was February, the snow started to fall at 4.00 pm and by 7.00 pm it was thick on the ground. The valiant few made it out and the abiding memory of this night is a huddle of over forties ‘dad dancing’ in the middle of a pub, prompting a large crowd of students to grab their coats and leave, smirking.
You often have to make a mistake like this to realise what it is you’re trying to create. What we realised was the importance of having our venue exclusively for early night clubbers. It wasn’t all about the lateness of normal clubs, it was also that feeling of being out of place, too old, too uncool, or not part of the scene. We needed our particular part of the community to feel at home. A club should be a place where you can let go, dance like there is no one watching. We had to find somewhere that had the right atmosphere and would be ours for the whole night, where we could create a fun and comfortable environment for everyone.
We eventually found La Raza, a tapas bar and nightclub in the city centre. The management were very enthusiastic, the bar was also in a basement – we could have the late night feel, instantly. But would people feel too intimidated by the clubby venue? The capacity was for over a hundred people; would we be able to fill it? On the snowy first night we managed around thirty people. Suddenly the pressure was on. We had no idea whether we could move from a few friends to this bigger night, but the idea had taken on a life of its own by now – we had to go for it. We printed flyers and posters, and talked to everyone we knew, promoting it in shops, offices and outside the school gates.
On the night, people, mostly women, began trickling in slowly in pairs and groups, looking as nervous as we were. By nine, the dance floor was heaving with Vicky and I squashed into the middle and Nick on the decks. It was an amazing evening and we’d done it, smashed our bar target and raised over £400 for Comic Relief and East Anglian Children’s hospital.
We have now been working with La Raza for over four years and filling the club every few weeks with delighted happy dancers. It’s a regular feature of Cambridge nightlife, a party night for a solid community of unlikely clubbers that has raised over £4,000 for local and international charities. We have plans to expand the night to other cities starting with London.
A key part of my role on the night is to get the dancing started and this is where journalist Emma Warren’s words ring true ‘Nightclubs can be transformative places’. People are finishing their food, some sit round the floor tapping feet but new comers are still nervous and unsure, wondering when the dancing will start, wandering if they should have come. On comes Stevie Wonder or the Scissor Sisters and we start to dance. People smile, they all smile at us and at each other. They lean forward, nod their heads in time with the beat, start to shake their shoulders a little; you can feel a ripple go through the whole venue. Most of them will be up and dancing before the song is halfway through. All they needed was permission. As the night goes on, many of them get up and dance on tables, some are down on their knees playing air guitar or singing dramatically into pretend microphones. They don’t leave the floor all night.
One night, a lady grasping my hand in both of hers said, ‘Please don’t stop doing this – it’s important. It gives us somewhere to come.’ Many of our customers are mothers, some are post grad students and some are local office workers. Ages range from thirty to sixty years and what they all have in common is that there is no other club where they feel they are allowed to be, where they can enjoy themselves so freely and enthusiastically in a place where they belong and where they can be home my midnight. People make friends here, they make current friendships stronger and they are able to stop and make time for themselves to have fun in their hectic and busy lives. This is why, no matter how busy we get or how much other commitments intrude, the Early Night Club is here to stay.
FLACK- MORE THAN A MAGAZINE
Rising from the ashes of the Willow Walker, a quarterly publication built from the contributions of residents of a local homeless shelter, FLACK was born from the idea that homeless people had more to offer society – the wild creativity, untold stories, and vivid personalities that make up the homeless sector could be harnessed; both for wider social and the contributing individuals’ psychological benefit. Cut to 3 years and several triumphant battles for funding later, and the FLACK dream is a reality. Publishing monthly, the magazine is now the city’s only comprehensive listings guide, giving citizens of Cambridge an alternative view of the world and our homeless beneficiaries a voice they wouldn’t otherwise have.
As a Magazine sold to the public, its aims are to highlight under the radar, outside of the mainstream, and preferably free events in this vibrant city. At the time of publishing, many of the magazines sold to the public cater for higher end events – for example, the Corn Exchange, The Junction – venues for touring bands and shows. FLACK promotes those events, which are born here in Cambridge, often-resourceful grass root initiatives or one off events, from spoken word nights to volunteering opportunities to art openings. Some of the quirkiest happenings range from ‘Befriending A Duck’ day, to ‘Learn to Drive a Tank’ day. These are things that otherwise wouldn’t have been brought to light, despite their uniqueness.
So I believe FLACK Magazine opens doors, builds relationships and can change lives. That’s the bottom line, and for the most part, all you need to know. As to how this mechanism happens, that’s a longer and much more convoluted story, and hopefully I can do it justice. I came on the scene at FLACK, applying for a job as Sales and Marketing Leader. This, as may be apparent to anyone who knows me, is not my forte. My background is in therapy and art; person-centred for the former, vaguely surrealist for the latter. What drew me here was the idea that here was a place that proved my gut instincts – that creativity could be used to change people’s lives, and that if you place a trust in people when no one else does, eventually they can rise above their issues and move towards a more positive future. What I found was this and so much more; often complicated, rarely easy, but always ultimately rewarding. Since starting here, both myself and other staff have been able to grow into our roles and expand our skills sets.
Homelessness is a broad label, encompassing more than just rough sleeping. To be eligible for publication, anyone who’s had an experience past or present of night shelter accommodation, being vulnerably housed, or even sofa surfing can submit. For getting involved, the same applies – anyone who’s had some experience can apply for membership. What we’re hoping is to make use of people’s skills – whether that be IT, editorial decisions, poster design; even just being able to make a good cup of tea. At every stage of the process, save for actual printing, we welcome people who have something the feel they can offer. As such, it’s always expanding or contracting based on who’s involved. If someone wants to do podcasts – go for it, we’ll help make it happen. If someone wants to just come and throw some ideas out there, we’ll put it out there and see if we can help. The remit is as flexible as our resources allow. FLACK offers a space several times a week for people who experience homelessness to just hang out. Over time relationships build and people think about whether they want to contribute as members. People who haven’t experienced homelessness are also welcome to drop in and might volunteer too.
FLACK has been described by our filmmaker as a creative hub – a place where people can congregate, collaborate, and feel safe enough and heard enough to begin expressing themselves. Slowly but surely, the trust placed in people so often withheld by mainstream society is reciprocated, and people so hardened by battling their demons begin to let their guard down and begin to trust themselves again. The physical condition of homelessness is a very real and very visible condition, but that’s only half of the battle; the negative stigma attached so often segregates individuals, forever viewed as ‘Other’ – scrounger, waster, addict. These labels are not easy to recover from, and having a supportive social environment distinct from street culture can make all the difference.
Self-worth is rebuilt through a symbiotic relationship between FLACK and society; we provide the platform, and the public validates the content with their buying power. If one element were to fail, the enterprise wouldn’t be viable. The fact that FLACK survives as a business is the biggest compliment we could possibly give the members who create the publication. The fact that FLACK gives homeless people a voice the public genuinely seem to respond to means it’s working. That people feel comfortable enough to explore their creativity that means it’s working, too.
The FLACK model of creating the most inclusive guide to what is on in Cambridge, provides a space for community projects to advertise and generates opportunities for further connections and relationships to grow. FLACK’s role creates a resource to enable everyone homeless or housed to learn more about and get involved with what’s going on in their neighborhood or the wider Cambridge community.
From its inception we’ve come a long way; we’ve won awards for our members’ films; we’ve hosted sell-out concerts in the Guildhall; we’ve spoken at a TEDx conference. The challenge, as it grows, is to make sure FLACK still represents the people it says it does – that we’re still largely led by the needs of our beneficiaries, and we’re still fulfilling a need that’s relevant to Cambridge, both town, gown, and everything in between.
YOU CAN BIKE TOO
Interview with Angela Sanford and Ruth Brannan
Editing by Ellie McKenny
Photos: You Can Bike Too and Alex Bright
You Can Bike Too came from one person’s desire to cycle with his family and friends. Aaran wanted to experience the wind on his face as he pedalled. He loved the freedom and independence cycling gave him when he visited an all ability adaptive bike project based in a park in London. With an increasing range of specialist and adaptive bikes designed to make cycling possible whatever your abilities, a group of keen cyclists, finding it difficult to cycle on the roads in Cambridge, asked the question; Why can’t we create a safe opportunity for everyone to try cycling in Cambridge?
Ruth, a keen cyclist and incredible people connector, decided to work together with Aaron and a mixed ability team of volunteers to make it happen. And they did! Two years, 13 specialist bikes, over 350 cyclists and the sweat and tears of many volunteers later and You Can Bike Too was born. They now have a great partnership with Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust and are hosted by the You Can Hub, a CIC that connects people together to help make ideasa reality. Bikes can be hired for anyone who wants to have a go at cycling at Milton Country Park. They say if you haven't been on a bike for a while (or ever!), are recovering from an injury, or just love the idea of cycling alongside your good friend or colleague then you can now explore the park by bike.
Why did you get involved in You Can Bike Too?
Angela (one of founders of the project): “Because it is my idea and Aaran’s
idea. I like riding a bike. It’s good fun. It’s healthy.
What have you done to make You Can Bike Too happen?
The project team’s responses from one of their planning and development meetings:
We met up together (project team meeting, at Russell St, a local housing association)
We looked at and made a logo so people know what it is
We visited other cycling projects to see what they do.
We tried bikes out for other people (to see which ones we should buy)
We found out information about the park. We asked lots of questions (to see if Milton Country Park would be a good place for cycling).
We told people about the project, by talking on the radio and giving presentations to lots of people in Cambridge.
We told the Mayor about You Can Bike Too and told him it makes people healthier.
We asked the council about a shed (to store the bikes in)
We had fun raising money to buy bikes (in all shapes and sizes)
We did a clothes swap and made cakes to sell. We got a cheque.
What happens now at Milton Country Park?
Ruth: “We have regular all ability bike sessions now, manned by cycle
instructors, as well as volunteers, with and without disabilities who provide a ‘back up’ team – ensuring that visitors know about the project, sign them in and fit them up with safety equipment like helmets etc. It’s a joint effort! People signing up for a session not only get the great cycling experience but also have an opportunity to socialize and have fun with others –this is one of the best aspects of the project!”
Angela: “This is where we are (Milton Country Park, see the photos), I take the money, Sarah puts out the cones and Aaran gives out the vests”.
So have you enjoyed telling people about the project that you wanted to set up?
Angela: “Yes, telling them aboutit, I talk about it quite a lot. That’s me when I do presentations” (see photo above).
What has been the best bit about the project for you?
Angela “Guess what, we went on the radio with Sue”.
Ruth “Angela did a great job telling people about You Can Bike Too on
Cambridge BBC radio”.
Angela “We won an award and went out for dinner, I like going to the pub”
Ruth “We have gained extra support and had fun by meeting up at monthly You Can Socials – a chance to go down the pub and meet people who are interested in connecting up with others to make good ideas a reality.
“My best experience so far is seeing how this project has ‘captured’ the imagination of so many people! It ‘works’ for so many people – of all ages, sometimes just a bit of a confidence booster for someone who has not cycled for years, sometimes a chance for someone who has never cycled to actually cycle and get so excited about the achievement. It has also been wonderful to see the confidence of the people involved just flourish as they make things happen! The project team do presentations to people from all walks of life, formal to quite informal –they take it all in their stride!”
What has been the secret to make it happen?
Ruth “The ‘secret’ is not really a secret it’s just been about working together –
people with people! Making sure people and their ideas feel valued, making sure people’s ideas are seen to be taken forward and for them to be involved in the planning process, getting back to people, keeping people informed, lots of ‘joining up the dots’”!
What will happen next?
Ruth : The project team are keen to carry on their roles as volunteers actually
on the sessions as they take place. They are learning slowly but surely to take on more. They need to feel confident in their roles as it gets busier! They all want to be involved in presentations about the project’s development – I see this work going beyond the boundaries of Cambridgeshire!
Angela: “We want more people to cycle because it is fun” “We want people to do what we do”
MILL ROAD WINTER FAIR
By Marisa Sutherland-Brown
Photographs by Marisa
Mill Road is a thriving borough just south of Cambridge’s city centre. A vibrant, multicultural community has emerged over the last twenty years that has paved the way for quirky boutiques and independent shops with a global appeal. It is a community that embraces the creative spirit that flourishes within the streets that frame the road.At just over a mile long and separated by a bridge that connects one eclectic pub-lined neighbourhood with another, it was only a matter of time before Mill Road found an official way to celebrate its distinctive nature.
For one special day per year Mill Road closes to traffic from East Road to Coleridge Road, which allows the community a chance to sing and dance in the street and participate in the busking, parade, workshops and performance art. Caffé Mobile Van has kept visitors well caffeinated at the Fair for many years. “ We were super busy and had a blast! Great to see people replace cars.” Another local mum said, “The kids had a great time too, as there were so many things for them to do. It’s events like this that make me grateful to live in a city like Cambridge as there is a real sense of community here.”
Beginning in 2005, The Mill Road Winter Fair was developed by local Mill Road residents and lead by Suzy Oakes. It was designed to celebrate the variety of cultures represented by the residents and traders of Mill Road and the unique atmosphere of the area. The fair began small, with 40 venues taking place along the bustling street on the first Saturday of December. Now 8 years on, hundreds of venues participate in the yearly event.
Community has always been central to the fair, never more was it felt as when Suzy Oakes, originator of the Fair, sadly passed away. Hundreds of people lined Mill Road with sunflowers to pay their respect as her hearse travelled along the road giving all the community one last chance to say thank you. Suzy was wonderful at galvanizing people and many of those involved in creating the fair are there because of her.
We have local traders working with a retired physicist, students from the university, a former Master’s wife, web developers and linguists all volunteering together, throughout the year, to ensure the fair runs smoothly. People who otherwise would never have crossed paths get the chance to meet and every meeting is followed by a trip to local pubs to be sure to play as hard as we work. The same is true of the hundreds of volunteers that make the fair possible. Some help because they have young families and want to contribute, some have children that have gone to the schools in the area and some are just looking for a lot of fun. People contribute what they can, drawing on their skills or interests. This means local musicians are recruited, treasure hunts are planned and the roads are lined with friendly marshals, ensuring people get to the different activities going on throughout the day. The fair is a lot of hard work but it's so much fun to be a part of! A friend of mine got me involved with the fair a few years ago and I haven't looked back since. That seems to be how it grows. People love it and want to find out how to get involved.
Every year the programme changes with local craftspeople and entertainers creating the entertainment for the fair. A fantastic new addition to the fair was 2012’s carnival parade inspired by West Indian and Brazilian carnivals and involved residents, community groups, primary school children and musicians. Renowned carnival artist Ali Pretty and her company Kinetika worked in partnership with Parkside Federation and Nicky Webb, a local resident and experienced event creative producer. Throughout the autumn they worked to teach everyone the carnival dance moves and create their own costumes. I was breath-taken by the sight of the parade coming over the Mill Road Bridge. It was hundreds of people - all in perfect rhythm dancing in colourful costumes. It was a sight to see!
Making workshops included learning silk-screen printing, laminating, and flag-making skills. People attended to learn skills for themselves and also to learn skills to take away and use to teach others at their school, group or organisation. In the end, 450 people took part in the parade on the day bringing their own skills; drumming, dancing & capoeira, which all helped to form a harmonious parade that couldn’t help but make you move to the Brazilian rhythms! But really I love walking in the road - there's something great about promenading where cars normally drive, and meeting friends along the way. It's a day of adventuring - you never know what great band, artwork or treasure you'll stumble upon next.
The parade isn’t the only entertainment. A samba band, gospel choir, local musicians, live art projects and a Chinese lion and dragon are among the attractions to see. Local resident Suzie Young always enjoys the live music, “Superb day at Mill Road Fair today. Gets better every year. Best bit was The Brass Funkeys playing on the bridge as the sun went down”. The local community mosque and various churches open their doors for tours and activities within their establishments which is a great way to share what all the various organisations get up to throughout the year. It really provides opportunities for residents to know what is going on in their neighbourhood, participate in activities on the day and potentially get involved with an organization or local activity after the event.
It’s also inspiring to see how the traders really get involved. We have a competition for the best Christmas window and the local shops all do a brilliant job – the Salvation Army Window is always a must visit! It’s also almost impossible to walk passed Andrew Northrop Butchers as his fresh local sausages create a queue a mile long. A wonderful treat for children is at the Cambridge Blue pub who bring in real live reindeers for the day and Santa Claus comes to pay the children a visit.
A clear highlight of the fair every year is the delicious food fair featuring the best regional delicacies on offer. Traders set up food stands outside of their shops to share their gastronomic heritage. Local artisan bakers always sell out of delicious breads and pastries and people stop to sample the cured meats being carved, take part in cooking demonstrations and try 5 alarm chilies from Cambridge Chili Farm. Lesley Crossland, a resident from a neighbouring town, was amazed by the selection. “Wow! The food fair (we came back loaded with goodies) all the stalls with wonderful foods from all over, from English sausages, spicy/savoury foods from all over the world, Chinese, Indian, Italian, too many to mention.” Many of the local venues use the day to raise money for charity. The Garden Café, part of the University of Cambridge Botanic Garden “raised over £400 for Multiple Sclerosis charities.” The spirit of giving really comes out on the day.
The fair began from humble beginnings but has grown by leaps and bounds, all because a few local residents wanted to showcase the spirit of Mill Road. Every year we tweak this and that and expand on what went well and rethink what didn’t work so well. It’s a living, breathing thing that we hope keeps representing the nature of the area.
By Laura James
Makespace is the community's inventing shed - a place to meet, learn, build and play. There's now a friendly space in the centre of Cambridge, where you can meet other people and work on projects: making, crafting, prototyping, fixing, collaborating and more.
Makespace opened in Spring 2013, and is both a ‘place’ and a ‘community’: it's 350 square metres just off Mill Lane containing lots of different equipment, working space, sofas, wifi and coffee. It's also a community of people who run the space, help each other learn new skills and work on projects of all kinds together or individually. Members drop into the space whenever they want to prototype new business ideas, learn new skills, share the excitement of engineering with kids (and grown-ups!), fix household items, work on their hobbies and generally make all kinds of things. The space has facilities for electronics, two 3D printers, a laser cutter, a CNC mill, a CNC router, a lathe, plus equipment for small-scale metal work (such as jewellery), glass work, and textiles. There are CAD workstations, a classroom space, work benches and a cafe area complete with tuck shop.
Makespace has been quite a few years in the making. We were inspired by different aims – wanting a place for club meetings, a space to hangout and make things, and facilities for prototyping new product ideas. Jonathan Austin and Simon Ford hosted an event in 2010 to explore community interest and get pledges of support. Many individuals pledged that they would pay to be Founder Members or offer other kinds of help. I pledged to help with the organisational side and so, in early 2011, we incorporated Makespace Cambridge Ltd, a non-profit organisation, with the three of us as directors. Knowing that we were working on something where there was real community interest and demand was critical. The energy, time, moral and financial support of the individuals involved has been vital for Makespace and we’re especially grateful to our Founder Members for making Makespace happen.
So we founded Makespace to achieve three aims. Firstly, to spread awareness of engineering and manufacturing, so that children and adults learn what it's about, why it's important, and realise that they too can play a role in making. Manufacturing is not something that just happens far away in China - it's vital for a thriving society and economy and it also takes place here in the UK and anyone can get involved. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach of all kinds is welcome at Makespace and it's provides a great opportunity for talks in the community to be connected to real physical equipment and items in the space too.
Secondly, we wanted to support new and existing businesses in Cambridge and the East of England. Makespace is a great environment for people to explore ideas for new businesses, find collaborators, and create prototypes. The mix of equipment and expertise in the community is particularly valuable as most prototypes will go beyond the primary skills of an inventor! We also support existing businesses who may not have equipment on site themselves or who want a quicker turnaround when creating new parts, cases and so on rather than using a service bureau. We hope to see Makespace inspiring new ideas, helping people experiment and refine their inventions, bringing teams together around product concepts and prototypes and supporting businesses as they grow.
Finally, we wanted a fun and friendly place to hang out with others who enjoy engineering, technology, and making things! You don't need to go to a pub or wonder why so many cafes are closed in the evening - you can come to Makespace and meet others, have a coffee and chat about the technology and projects you love.
There are two ways anyone in Cambridge can get involved: either come along to one of our public events or join as a member for 24/7 access to the space for £40 per month. We have a wide range of events and more coming all the time - talks, meetups, workshops, training events, and of course our ever-popular Family Makers on Sunday mornings, where kids and parents can make things together.
We want to ensure the space is welcoming to everyone, regardless of skill level, the projects we enjoy, and the kind of things we want to use Makespace for. We’re not just a co-working space – we’re a community and a place for projects, not just a desk for 9-5 working.
Whilst day to day, the community run the space including deciding what equipment will be bought and what events are run. Makespace Cambridge Limited looks after legal, financial, and safety aspects of the space. We are very grateful to our Founder Sponsors who enabled Makespace to happen: The Institute for Manufacturing, Ideaspace, ARM, TTP, Microsoft Research, and the Cambridge Science Centre. Ideaspace provided a Bootstrap grant to help get the project started and other funds pay for capital equipment for the space. Membership fees pay for operating costs to ensure the space and making activities are sustainable.
We get a lot of calls and emails now from others who want to set up projects like Makespace in their own cities and regions. The best advice we can give is what we have learnt – you have to start with the community. Find the people who want a space, talk to them, learn what they want, and go from there. Also, remember every community is different – we believe Makespace is right for Cambridge, but it won’t be right for every city; look at all the other kinds of makerspace and hackerspace and work out what’s right for your community. Be creative in taking the best bits from other initiatives!
The most amazing thing to see has been all the community energy. For example, the kitchen area at Makespace was designed and built entirely by our awesome volunteers. Family Makers has been set up and driven by the community and is an incredibly exciting events programme – we wanted to see this sort of thing and it has come about because of brilliant volunteers who’ve planned and collaborated and made it happen. Then there are all the other people who’ve donated equipment, given their own time, trained people, painted things, fixed things, made things, organised things, cleaned things, transported things, designed things and shared things – everyone has been amazing. Thank you all!
We're always making Makespace, it isn't finished! Although we formally opened this spring, the space is always being improved and enhanced by the people using the space. We've recently acquired some Space Invaders on the wall and we've added lots of new equipment since our opening too. By the time the ink was dry on our posters, we had new kit we hadn't listed! Recent additions include glass working and the CNC router.
The events programme is also getting busier as more people choose to run their meetups and talks at Makespace and we look forward to seeing even more new events starting through the summer. We also hope to start building up our schools engagement programme and to do more to help kids learn about engineering, manufacturing, making and acquiring the skills, which will help them today and tomorrow.
By Caroline Wright, Katie Bavester and Kirsten Lavers
Photos © Paul Roylance
Orchard Park is a housing development on the North side of Cambridge. Construction has been underway since 2006 and on completion there will be a total of around 1200 dwellings. Mid construction of the development, Twinning Households was one arts project that aimed to creatively foster introductions between new residents.
The project Twinning Households took place as part of Crop Marks, one of the arts initiatives enabled by the Section 106 funding for art allocated as part of the creation of the Orchard Park development.
Crop Marks was a ten-day residency for seven selected artists who were commissioned to make work using the place and community of Orchard Park as their canvas. Artists were selected by local residents who had moved into the development and Kirsten Lavers, a Neighbourhood Artist employed there at the time. This meant that the new residents had a real stake in who was going to spend time in their neighbourhood and had the power to choose artists whose work they felt to be relevant, appropriate and interesting. For artists, the selection process was a new experience using shared, open presentations and interviews, a process hitherto untried. Being interviewed in a room of twenty plus people including your competitors for the job brings a whole new perspective on how other people portray themselves in this situation. Everyone learned something.
I was selected as one of seven successful applicants. My proposal was based on the observation that residents were not having the ‘over the fence’ chat nor was there any evidence at that stage of much social activity going on within the development. I decided to create a system for pairing occupied households in Orchard Park in an attempt to encourage residents to share and interact with neighbours they had not met before. I decided to instigate a postal service for the development and would take on the role of postwoman for the duration of the project. The seed of this idea was sown during the interview process when, at the meeting, the difficulty in communicating was expressed by Orchard Park Residents.
Katie Bavester, one of the residents, described one of the challenges when you move to a new location is being able to meet your neighbours and get to know them. At Orchard Park, at the time of the twinning programme, this seemed even harder due to lack of infrastructure such as a community centre, shops, local pub and established community activity that naturally brings neighbours together.
I was invited to stay with Katie, who was also one of the residents who had recently founded Park Arts Group, a growing resident-led, voluntary group interested in supporting and delivering arts based activities within the neighbourhood. We had not met before; staying with Katie was an additional chance to understand the community directly from a resident’s perspective. The help that both Katie and Kirsten Lavers (who curated the project) offered in signposting me to information, people and services was invaluable. This infrastructure meant I was able to build on the work already done with an immediate grasp of the relationships, issues and connections/non-connections within the development. Katie was excited and interested in seeing the trail of communication across Orchard Park start to develop. She joined in sending messages to the neighbour she was paired with.
So, I designed and printed a double sided postcard with a drawn image of the Twinning Households’ postboxes on one side and a space for written dialogue between two households on the other. Households were paired randomly through an open selection and the address of each house in the pair was handwritten onto a postcard and hand delivered to the first of the two addresses. The addresses were put into a ‘hat’ and the first two were pulled out by one of the youngest residents, who was also the first person to be born on Orchard Park. The time consuming task of addressing postcards was undertaken by volunteers who were interested to get involved with what was going on. Households could operate more than one dialogue at a time if they wished and postcards placed in the specially designed postboxes erected around the development were collected and delivered twice daily. To accompany the first blank postcard delivery, a letter outlining the project and giving instructions to residents was also put through everyone’s letterboxes.
At the outset of the ten day period, the first tentative, neighbourly messages were exchanged across the development. In turn the second household could respond, and so on…creating numerous reciprocal exchanges across the Park. Of the 11% of households that took part initially, 5.5% sent more than three messages to each other over the week. Each exchange was recorded onto a drawing using a map of Orchard Park which was then displayed on the development’s two noticeboards as evidence of the interaction established between residents.
In one case, two addresses were paired that were next door to each other. Ironically, the two families had not spoken to each other up to this point but through Twinning Households, they struck up a conversation with each other over the garden fence. There was a real sense of community barriers being broken down, as a single mother conversed with an elderly gentleman living with his son. A street BBQ resulted from one set of exchanges.
Katie said she felt the twinning project broke down barriers by creating the opportunity to make connections with other residents rather than expecting those households to come together. The project helped remove a certain sense of isolation and helped build a sense of community that was welcome at a time when large pockets of the development had been left half built and disconnected from each other due to the economic downturn and building sector slump.
Kirsten recalls that although the Crop Marks project took place nearly four years ago, Cambridge is a small city and she often meets Orchard Park residents. One woman in particular regularly updates her on her ongoing friendship with the family she made contact with through Twinning Households – they recently went on holiday together! She is sure that now there are hundreds if not thousands of neighbourly interactions taking place at Orchard Park and many of them will trace back to Twinning Households.
Katie reflects how the artist residency at Orchard Park brought together like minded residents keen to help drive community engagement and development. Park Arts Group (PAG) became integrally involved in providing support to the Crop Marks project and members of the group hosted those artists who decided to stay on the development during the project, in their homes. Katie said working together on the project gave PAG residents confidence to raise further funding and to undertake further tender processes inviting artists to work with residents to deliver public art based projects.
Four years on, with the establishment of a Community Council at Orchard Park, the PAG residents have refocused their activities. However they continue to organize and deliver one off community based activities including carnival art workshops, craft workshops, beer festivals, artist led projects linked to the London 2012 Games and stilt walking workshops capturing the creative power of Orchard Park residents.
THE PLOUGH AND FLEECE
By Tony Phillips
Photos by Plough & Fleece team
There are so many pubs closing down these days that you’d be forgiven for thinking that there was no hope for the thousands of small communities that would be left beerless and friendless if their local was yet another victim of supermarket sales tactics or global recession. Here’s the story of the Plough and Fleece Community Pub to restore your faith in the power of a determined group of locals to change the course of local history.
The Plough and Fleece is a 17th century pub in the village of Horningsea just outside Cambridge. For the past 5 years local villagers and lease holders Ro Asplin and daughter Emily Redfarn fought a valiant rear guard action to maintain the pub as a going concern faced with ludicrous rent demands, horribly long hours and tiny profit margins. They decided it was time to give up the lease but the thought of just closing the doors after all that effort was unthinkable.
Some months before this I had moved to the village. The pub soon became a home for Cluzion music, a project which promotes creating inclusive spaces for good quality live music to be appreciated whilst inspiring and building community. I could see how important the pub was to our small village and suggested to anyone that might listen that a community take-over might be possible. The idea was taken up as part of the overall village plan. I offered my background in social enterprise development to run a couple of workshops for anyone that might be interested in knowing about the nuts and bolts of community interest companies, co-operatives, companies limited by guarantee and all the other mystic sounding (but really very simple when you have a guide) not-for-profit structures available.
Green King were approached formally with the idea that the village would take on a one year lease, giving them time to raise the purchase price of the pub and also find out what it was like in reality to run a pub on a day to day basis.
The model everyone chose had all the hallmarks of a down-to-earth, community-led, people-sized, sustainable initiative and goes something like this:
Everyone should be included - not just rich people so shares should be as low as £60 and include 10% discount on everything for sale in the pub.
Everyone should have a vote – our adopted model as a community interest company gives every investor one voting share for use at the annual general meeting. People are clear that this is for really important issues rather than the colour of the walls or the decision to put lamb chops on the menu.
Everyone who wants to can get involved as a volunteer – at the moment local people are running the following from the pub: Arthouse for music, poetry, arts and crafts lovers; Gardeners World for the greenfingered amongst us; Business Club for members interested in marketing, business development, business lunches and diversification; A Question of Sport for the darts, petanque, cards and dominoes lovers; Spit and Polish, for the obsessive cleaners and titivators amongst us; Silver Circle for people of a certain age who want to meet up for a natter and a coffee and we are adding more all the time.
There should be lots of events to bring everyone together - Recent unusual events include: a three person production of the whole of Jesus Christ Superstar; a family day building new tables and benches for the garden;
Monthly Cluzion music club gigs; monthly open mic mights, weekly open acoustic sessions featuring the Horningsea Shanty Group; the three day Greenstage Free Festival in the pub garden and the now legendary three day Wedstival celebrating the nuptials of pub investors Paul and Lou. Wow!
We should invest in local talent - Tom, our chef-manager, lives in the pub and Jack, our cellarman, lives round the corner. Nearly all the paid team live just up the road. We have five directors who are all local people and there will be elections at the end of the first year so anyone who wants to can put themselves forward to take on piles of responsibility and deal with a billion day to day issues, world recession, falling incomes, rising prices and an old building of in need of TLC. What an attractive proposition!
We should be open 7 days a week – this is a tricky one because the longer we are open, the more staff and volunteers we need and there’s no guarantee that the customers will follow in huge numbers. On the other hand, there are lots of groups who would love to use the pub and the old adage is nearly always true – if you build it they will come.
So we applied for an SOS Village Lottery grant and got £47,000 to spend on underwriting longer opening hours, doing the place up and doing the best we can to attract more investors. Trouble is we can’t use the grant until we have secured the freehold and that is taking longer than we expected to close the deal despite the fact that we have raised over £180,000 through individual investments. Just a few weeks more and we will be the proud owners.
The investors are a really interesting bunch of people. It’s been great that so many people on benefits, or older people on pensions have come along and invested £60 and it’s also been satisfying to know that others have parked thousands of pounds with us as a clear sign of confidence in the project. Needless to say, people have been coming back to pub in large numbers due to all the great free publicity we have generated and, best of all, we won the CAMRA rural community pub of the year in May!
All of the volunteers, investors and customers involved have got their own reasons for getting stuck in. For instance, Rob is a project manager with a large IT company and is very good at getting things done. In addition to the pub broadband and oodles of computer advice to the punters, he also masterminded the Great Table and Benches Challenge; designing and building 8 wonderful bits of furniture for the pub garden from recycled scaffold boards with the assistance of 20 or so amateur furniture makers from the pub volunteer force. Bert and Helen noticed a trendy and green method of providing towels in the pub loos on a trip to, of all places, IKEA, and promptly invested their own money in stocking up; saving the pub considerable cash in the process. Richard has just offered to take over the kitchens for a day to let Chef Tom go off on holiday, knowing we won’t all be eating ship’s biscuits and weevils whilst he is away. Dave has just repainted all the fencing on his day off. Jules trimmed the hedges last week whilst Peter planted a Golden Hop in the pub garden he had grown from seed. He has also offered to show us how to brew our own cider this Autumn from the pub apple trees...now there’s a useful contribution!
The best way to experience the Plough and Fleece to is drop in for a pint and a meal sometime when you are next in the area. The key to any successful community project is to get the hospitality right – there is nothing more powerful then feeling welcomed into the beating heart of your local community (with a pint in one hand).
MAKE, DO AND MEND
By Alice Webb
Photos by Alice Webb and Chloe Letchford
Make, Do and Mend is a creative and cooperative outfit for people to socialise and learn new skills through strengths based workshops which are low cost, sustainable, flexible and environmentally friendly.
When I became too unwell to work through suffering from severe clinical depression perpetuated by, what doctors labelled as, a borderline personality disorder, I was sure my life was over. I am an achiever and perfectionist and work was my life. I was handed pill after pill. The doctors would tell me, ‘Try this one and see how you get on’. Anyway, to cut a long and sad story short, being alone at home isolated me from the rest of the world. I could no longer function at home with my distressing, intrusive thoughts. My self-esteem was non-existent as my usefulness to society had been denied to me. Who in their right mind would ever employ me again after so much time off sick? I desperately wracked my brains for solutions to my situation and somewhere in those sleepless nights the name: ‘Make, Do and Mend’ came to me.
I talked my ideas through with friends and colleagues; about combining activities people would find relaxing or enjoy with the company of people who could understand what they were going through. I hoped it might improve symptoms of low mood and engender a supportive environment where people could start to rebuild their lives and re-discover both their strengths and themselves. Make, Do and Mend is a now small but growing group of people in Cambridge who struggle with mental health distress. Mental illness can create both social and economic exclusion for those who suffer and Make, Do and Mend was set-up as an antidote to that isolation.
In the beginning, we decided to start running the workshops from my dining room as we didn’t yet have enough funding for premises and we wanted to pilot the workshops to see if they would be useful and indeed wanted or needed by people in the local community. After advertising our workshops in GP surgeries and amongst local mental health teams and professionals, we soon began to get inquiries. Our first workshop began in November 2011 with a small group of people who were interested in Creative Writing. This workshop now runs weekly on a Tuesday morning and the group is growing and people are improving their skills as they face a different writing challenge every week. The next workshop requested by our members was making greetings cards and this also now runs every week. As our members and volunteers have grown, so have the number and range of workshops according to our members’ interests. By the end of March 2012 we were running 47 workshops per month over seven days a week. These included: Creative Writing, Greetings Cards, Sewing, Gardening, Furniture Restoration, Drawing, Jewellery, Foraging, Painting, Rag Rugging, Computer Skills, Cooking and Preserving.
Our first member joined on 10th October 2011. By the end of March 2012 we had 38 members and today we have reached over 100. By the end of March 2012 we also had 10 volunteers who were inducted and trained with the help of the Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service (CCVS) and out of those first 10 volunteers, 5 came from our own membership. We now have 20 active volunteers of which 10 first started as members. The majority of our other volunteers found us through the Do-it website, the Volunteer Centre and CCVS.
We outgrew my dining room quite quickly and more space became our main priority at the end of 2012. Although it still remains our back office and correspondence address, we found some great premises to rent on Mill Road in the Centre of Cambridge and moved most of our workshops there at the beginning of February 2013. The Bharat Bhavan owned by the ICCA has plenty of space to accommodate several workshops running at the same time and storage for all of our materials. This means members get to meet more people when coming to workshops and it makes it easier for us to train our volunteers so they can become multi-skilled through cross-training and shared experiences.
Make, Do and Mend provides a relaxed and friendly environment where people can get together over mutual interests. Our workshops provide a welcome distraction to our ills, as we try to discover who we are again and how we might fit back into the world. Having a purpose and something to do - to get up for, cannot be underestimated. We also welcome very much friends, family members, or workers from mental health teams to attend so that any myths about what we do can be dispelled and to support the more anxious among us.
If recovery is possible, we need to start with our strengths and go from there. Everybody is good at something and through mutual encouragement and understanding, our members are able to share experiences and develop skills. As members and volunteers get to know each other and start to discover their different likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, we encourage people to do the things they enjoy and are good at or might be good at but have never had the opportunity to try. When we have a small group of people who have a shared or common interest, we try to organise a workshop to encourage them to try and explore their own strengths and ideas within that subject. Demand for the workshops can vary according to the interests of the members currently attending and so we need to remain flexible in order to meet that demand and if we can find a low-cost, environmentally friendly way of doing it and sharing those skills, we do.
We have also been fortunate enough to receive donations of materials from the general public and in sourcing items on Freecycle or ebay where necessary. All workshops are free of charge to our members as many members are too unwell to work and have low incomes as a result. We did not want there to be any barriers to people accessing Make, Do and Mend. Members can also approach us directly, rather than having to go through a GP or needing a diagnosis.
Members give back to the organisation in various ways with many going on to become volunteers. We are entirely run by volunteers who do everything from sharing their skills in the roles of Workshop Assistants and Leaders to the back office tasks including keeping accounts, taking minutes at meetings, organising and helping out at events and keeping on top of admin, marketing and fundraising. We simply could not exist without volunteers. Members contribute their own ideas and work on all kinds of creative endeavours, which can then be sold to help fund more workshops. Make, Do and Mend currently visits local fairs and has stalls at local events. Our individual handmade items will also soon be available to buy from Emmaus in Cambridge.
We hope, in the future, that Make, Do and Mend can eventually become self-sustaining rather than depending on grant funding which is great while it’s available and not so great when the fund dries up and you have to close services. This, we hope, will create a more sustainable and stable future for our organisation and everyone involved. The demand for what we offer is growing and eventually, we would like to be able to employ people on part-time flexible contracts as the next steps to cope with this demand. We would also positively discriminate to employ people with lived experience of mental ill-health.
I think the best thing about Make, Do and Mend is the people who come. The strength that comes with realising you are not on your own and that those people out there with similar experiences might be able, through their understanding, to heal each other or at least provide a distraction from what can essentially become a non-existence when living with a long-term mental illness. Make, Do and Mend may not be financially rich but we are very much people rich which makes the organisation such a vibrant and dynamic place to recover.
FREEDOM CLUB TIMEBANK
By Wendy Lansdown
Photos by Cambridgeshire Timebanking Partnership
Timebanking is all about communities exchanging knowledge, help and skills. In the process meeting new people, connecting with neighbours, learning and having fun. The simple idea is that by giving one hour of your time doing something you enjoy, you earn one hour of time credit, which you can then take back in any number of ways; offers include – painting and decorating, learning Spanish and simple DIY.
The Cambridge Freedom Club Timebank was initiated by the Parents’ forum at The Fields Children’s Centre back in 2006. Parents wanted to feel more involved in their community and to be valued for their skills. Some initial funding was identified and David Boffey was recruited as a part-time coordinator, and remains at the heart of the Timebank today.
The launch involved the first eager Timebank members who signed up participating in a group exchange to improve a wildlife garden at the Children’s Centre, clearing the overgrown area to make it more accessible. Other members donated time to the Timebank by baking bread and cakes, and growing tomatoes, cucumbers and beetroot for the buffet. Still others helped by giving lifts to less mobile members from all over Cambridge.
At this stage, the Timebank was just finding its feet, the exchanges were quite traditional, amongst them light gardening and help with moving house. Now with over 150 active members, the Timebank has evolved and been shaped by its members from across the city. Currently funded by the Big Lottery, there is an emphasis on supporting people who don’t traditionally engage with community activities.
The Timebank has teamed up with Wintercomfort who support homeless people in the city. People who lived at the hostel were keen to use their practical skills (building and garden maintenance) to support their local community. David matched this desire to help, with the need of some Timebankers who had built up large numbers of unspent hours. He had received a few requests, as yet unfulfilled, from members wanting garden makeovers. A great new partnership was born and has continued to grow. The garden team go out and complete big garden jobs; everything from clearance works to building patios. I can vouch for the quality of the work, having had my veg patch rotivated earlier this year. Never before has our garden seen such a wonderful tilth!
The outcomes of this collaboration have been multiple. Trust has been built between the homed and homeless communities. We have seen people’s confidence grow as their skills have been recognised and valued. And three people have found employment as a result of their involvement, with the help of the good references gained from Timebank members who have been the recipients of their hard work.
People often ask what the difference is between volunteering and Timebanking. For me, the key difference is the reciprocity. That is not to say that one is better than the other, they are just different and can appeal to different people. Timebanking tends to engage a broader audience; some people like the equality inherent in the idea; everyone’s hour is equal, regardless of what each person is giving.
There have been a range of imaginative exchanges over the years. One of the most recent was an International day which the Timebank hosted in partnership with the Children’s Centre. One of the Timebank members has friends in Nepal and a discussion over coffee led to the brainwave of using Timebanking as a way to bring the different cultures within a local community together. David put a call out to the local community to ask if anyone would like to share something of their own culture with their community. With some encouragement, confidence building and a licence for creativity, the International Day became a family fun day with a huge array of activities. Children had a passport to get stamped at each country (activity stall) they visited. There was origami from Japan, egg painting from Romania, Polish dancing, children’s rhymes from Denmark and strawberries from the English vegetable garden! After a bring and share lunch with food from around the world we all settled down to a short film from our inspirational friends in Nepal who showed us a variety of games that they play, as well as giving a flavour of their school life. The children had a go at one of the games and made a film to return to their new Nepali friends, giving a flavour of life in the UK.
The menu of offers that the contributors to the International day can choose from to take back their time credit is ever growing, from yoga lessons to beauty therapy to learning the secrets of how to cook amazing aromatic curries!
I thoroughly enjoy being a trustee of the Timebank. I never cease to be surprised by the number of different ways such a simple concept can be used to enable people to get stuff done, whilst building communities and connecting people. And the phenomenon is growing. In the last few years four new Timebanks have cropped up in the county and The Cambridgeshire Timebanking Partnership has come together – all the Timebanks working together to learn, help new Timebanks set up and even set up exchanges between Timebanks.
Recently we have started to receive more interest from businesses that see Timebanking as a great way for them to help their communities. Instead of spending money on expensive outdoor pursuits, one local business raised some money for equipment and spent their team day putting in new raised beds for a Sheltered Housing Scheme, building some great links with their community in the process. For this business, it was about a great team building day and giving to their local community. We are starting to explore some innovative options with businesses who are keen to share their skills in exchange for practical support. For example marketing advice given to a charity, could be exchanged for a mystery shopper who will test out the company’s customer service and feedback to them.
The thing I love most about Timebanking is the endless possibilities it offers, the only limit is the imagination of the members. Who knows what’s round the corner? I always look forward to finding out.
By Ruthie Collins
The Cambridge Art Salon (or ‘Art Salon’, for short) opened in September 2011, with a packed fancy dress party (theme – come as your favourite art piece). Guests spilling out into the street; a performance artist (wearing a haute couture hat made on site by Daniel Pilecki) served up French bubbly bought from my mum’s place in France and 21 resident artists exhibited their works (including soon-to-be winner of the Ceramics Biennial 2011 Fresh Talent award, Laurence Epps). My fiancé Lee played the kind of electronica we both loved at raves in Sheffield (minus the gabba!) – where we met. Someone told him to play jazz, aghast, ‘it’s a gallery’ they lamented. ‘This is exactly what Cambridge needs’, people said. The truth is, Cambridge needs more.
We’re currently based in an old motorbike shop, a gallery and studios for the community. We have an inclusive policy, supporting all kinds of contemporary arts; from street art and illustration, to paintings, sound-art, installation, video-art, mixed media, sculpture and textiles, writing, too – predominantly Cambridge artists and designer-makers, from emerging artists to established professionals wanting to try a new direction in a relaxed space – some with international scope. Any member of the public can apply to use the studios or gallery to work on their creative idea, regardless of established credentials.
‘Having a space at the salon has been an amazing experience for me. As someone new to Cambridge it gave me a chance to be introduced to the local arts network in Cambridge and get to know other resident artists. The atmosphere at the salon is incredibly supportive’, says textile artist Shilo Englebrecht, who launched her first collection of textiles while a resident with us. Soon after, she was spotted by press such as the Telegraph, Australian Vogue and Elle magazine.
Before the Art Salon was born, we’d set up a studio for 20 artists which took two years to make sustainable. When it was earmarked for development, we needed to find new premises and found the old motorbike shop. As well as providing low cost studio space and a gallery, the Art Salon is a supportive network of people – a community in its own right. We can now provide a space for talks, networking and screenings. Alongside professional artists using our relaxed environment for new ideas, the social space created also offers opportunities to community groups and established charities, to exhibit and celebrate their creative works; strengthening their group’s individual or collective practices as artists. It’s an unusual combination for a contemporary art space. Often, say the word ‘communiteeeee’ in the artworld and you can get annexed into a world of holding hands and hugging trees, with a bit of a sniff. We don’t believe this has to be the case – our community in Cambridge, after all, includes both professional and emerging artists, so why not serve them? As one of our gallery regulars, a local GP and talented artist said once, ‘It’s the kind of space that has grown organically out of our community – it’s diverse, but we are a diverse bunch of people’.
The Art Salon is more than a space. We pioneer contemporary arts and creative projects, too. In 2012 we launched the Cambridge Art Walks Map as part of our commitment to promote equal access to art in the city. In 2013, we started the Romsey Art Festival – with over 40 ‘creative happenings’ planned this August, celebrating our immediate community. We’ve also helped a range of creative projects with Creative Kickstart professional support sessions, too. As poet Clare Crossman says in her poem, Well, written for the Cambridge Art Salon the project has become a real ‘meeting point, solace’ for ideas and people, ‘quenching the thirst’ that sometimes comes without access, or outlet for inspiration.
All this in two years.
How? The Art Salon happened because of people coming together: a range of artists and culture lovers from all backgrounds, students and volunteers. ‘You’ve tapped into a real need in Cambridge’, a slightly incredulous Mayor of Cambridge said at our opening party. We’re artist-led. Artists like Dan Biggs poured energy into creating the gallery by hand! So many people helped with advice and spreading the word, like Paul Smith of Cam Creative and Karen Jinks and Mandy Knapp of the Cambridge Creative Network, who now help with the little shop and guest curate in the gallery too. This year we’ve been piloting an Arts Enterprise Certificate for some of our longer term volunteers as a way of giving them professional development and saying ‘Thank you’.
For me, growing up in Cambridge was sometimes tough. It’s one of the most affluent cities in the world, yet its infrastructure for artists and creatives pales in comparison with other cities such as Sheffield – where I went to Uni or London, where I lived in a warehouse studio. I’ve seen so many amazing people leave the city because of this. Having said that, we have an eclectic and diverse community – with a long history of creative expression. As an arts columnist for Cambridge Edition magazine, I love writing about it. This energy is very much part of the city’s fabric already. Spaces like Kettles Yard are embracing new, fresh artists; Aid and Abet are doing fantastic things, too: we are part of this energy, with a fundamental commitment to the public of Cambridge at our heart. We don’t at present have lots of funding (though we haven’t yet asked for it) – this is the biggest challenge we have. But isn’t it an inspiration to see a young organisation that has done so much without it?
I’ve always just wanted to improve my hometown for others. I was born on Mill Road and I love the sense of roots in Cambridge as a city. But my passion for inclusion probably came from my experience growing up here, then returning after studying at University with plenty of creative ideas, but nowhere to ‘house’ my creative work. The culture shock. Say you work in Cambridge and people say ‘you must be in IT’ or ‘at the University?’ Being a young creative, living on a boat, making art, it felt like I didn’t fit in to the stereotypical Cambridge idea of where success was supposed to come from. I figured there must be others like me, but most of them leave or give up through frustration. So creating the Art Salon for me has been about making my hometown a more inclusive place for all. We’re currently talking to other creative organisations about working to create a larger, permanent art centre, with improved facilities – what our project has always been a stepping stone towards.
Being different can give you an edge, but everyone needs a home. So do the arts in Cambridge. A truly rich city nurtures a range of creative voices, not just a handful.