The Travelling Pantry came to Burslem last night, hosted jointly by the Middleport and Burslem Local Forum and the RSA. A mixture of residents and workers had the chance to share ideas and learn from each other with stimulating presentations and ‘serious play’ facilitated by Tessy Britton. The workshop was part of the Social Spaces project and this report is in development, please check back as more links and photos are added.
Thank you very much to Tessy and Vivs from the RSA – and the RSA Fellows – for coming to Burslem on only the second date of their whirlwind tour of the country. Thanks also to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, RENEW North Staffordshire and the Burslem School of Art for helping to organise and promote the workshop. Individually Karen Dulson (SOT Council), Peter Bevington (Local Forum), Carolyn Powell (Bizfizz), Jackie Grant and John Webbe (Midland Heart) also all helped in different ways.
Thank you also to everyone who came along, we hope you had fun!
Within the room we had people with all sorts of different links. They came from Burslem, Middleport, Dalehall, Acreswood, Cobridge, Stone and as far afield as Leeds and Hertfordshire. They were involved in organisations as workers, students and volunteers including the RSA, the Local Forum, Swan Bank Methodist Church, Burslem Park Partnership, Bizfizz, Staffordshire University, the RSA Tipton Academy, the CAB, WEA, Gingerbread, some residents associations, some businesses, schools nurseries, youth clubs… my pen was running out at this point – there were a lot more associations than people!
What did we do?
The evening was fun but also at times sad, with stories emerging of the desolation that comes from clearance. As much as we could be inspired by the examples of people doing it on their own, we also need channels to address the feelings that people have. One of our lego figures was “a skier. He’s got no skis or poles and nothing around him. He’s frustrated… We come up with lots of ideas but they all get knocked down, there’s no money, no insurance. Now old people don’t feel safe going anywhere so they go inside at night. The buses only run every hour and stop early at weekends. We got some tools from a grant but we don’t have anywhere to put them. We’ve been given three allotment spaces but they’re waterlogged, so we’re asking a construction firm if they can help in return for some publicity”
Other figures also reflected loneliness – “people use computers and the internet all the time, they don’t talk to each other” – silent streets and the parking bugbear. But they also suggested solutions: green and growing spaces, festivals, sustainable energy sources, accessible services, magical vehicles to see things from a new perspective and get round more easily, music, public art, learning and bridges. A make and bake shop where people could just come to cook and share food, somewhere that you can go on your own “because you can’t just sit on your own, you look weird“.
Then we made a map, which was amazing for its detail (pictures should come soon) even within the small space we focussed in upon. Burslem and Middleport is, it emerged, chock full of social spaces, projects and people connecting people, places to go and a vibrant mix of communities and businesses. Tessy mentioned that since starting her research she now keeps an eye out for all empty building and wasteland ‘assets’, ripe for reuse – so suddenly we’re rich! One of the main things to take from the workshop was how many things we’ve got to share, if we can only tell each other about them and help isolated people within the communities get to them. The web, of course, can help, although devices to connect people face-to-face are crucial to make websites useful.
What did we learn?
As well as the wealth of ‘stuff’ going on within our small town and villages – and remember we’ve got five more towns and fifty-six-ish more of the villages – we heard about inspiring projects and websites that Tessy has been researching. Many can be explored by the Social Spaces website and I’ll start sharing them on this blog for further discussion. Some are ideas that can be replicated by any group, others are useful websites that can be used to share and trade for free or for payment, a great way of getting to know neighbours, stimulating the local economy and helping us to spend less as well.
One of the messages I found helpful was that starting small is OK. The world can be changed in small steps as well as big ones. If you’re fearful about knocking on doors, start with the idea and ask around for help. Don’t get bogged down in ‘snagging lists’ and problems but make use of new technology and different structures to work around them. As this brilliant menu suggests, you can even save time by stealing ideas.
This website has an email list so anything shared here can go out by email and Twitter to upwards of 200 people interested in Burslem. Category pages can be created to develop more local channels and help is available to anybody who wants to learn how to contribute to this site themselves. The Social Spaces network is also worth joining to see what workshop groups in other parts of the country have been doing and share ideas in a network space.
Most of all, what comes next is, perhaps, more learning, sharing and making.