Help Please: #workshop34 Final Report

I’m writing a final report on the work I just did in Sittingbourne, opening and running a pop-up shop and co-working space in the High Street there as part of the EU-funded ReCreate project.

This is mostly a request for help from people who were familiar with or directly involved in the project, but I’m up for feedback from all sides.  In fact, just writing that has helped me see that I’d like to make it much easier for people to read who had no exposure to the project at all, but that might be a longer-term goal than getting the final report submitted with the final invoice!

This section is meant to sum up the Key Successes.  I’d like to know whether:

  • you agree that these are indeed the key successes – and if not what you’d add or take away;
  • you think there are better ways of saying what I’ve said;
  • you have better examples than the ones I’ve used to illustrate the success; or
  • any of it doesn’t make sense at all to you.
  • Or, y’know, anything else that would make it better.

Thank you!

Key Successes

Reactivating the High Street
We made a difference to how the street felt to local people and to how people thought about using empty spaces.

Sittingbourne High Street has lots of empty shops, especially towards the eastern end where workshop34 was. We immediately brightened this area, simply by cleaning the exterior, removing fly-posting and putting the lights on. Once we opened the doors for business and hung the bright yellow sign above the doorway we made a real difference to the feel of that end of the street – many people would simply come in to see what was going on because they were so surprised to see anything happening there.

We had good relations with neighbouring shops from the start. The owner of one local jeweller visited in the first week and we got to know especially well the local cafe owners, encouraging shop users to buy their lunches, cakes and coffees in one of the three nearest ones.

We encouraged Belinda Gyampa, a local hairdresser specialising in African haircare, who had become a regular user of our shop first to visit and then take on one of the retail units for hire in the building opposite.

Led by Community
Many spaces supported by ReCreate designed an offering and then fitted local people into it. We took the opposite approach – asking people what they wanted to do and then saying “Yes, do it!”  As a result we squeezed a wider range of activities into the short time-frame than we might have otherwise done.  

While we know a lot about what works in pop-up shops and creative collaboration spaces, we are also strongly committed to doing things with people rather than for or to them. During the month of November, Lloyd sat in the shop most days and simply talked to people about what they would like to do ithere. He almost always said “Yes! Please!”, partly because there was little time to be fussy and turn down stuff, but also knowing that only a small proportion of people would come back.

The other reason for giving power to the community from the start is that it makes it much easier at the end of the project. Lloyd works on the basis that the best success is when the group believes that they did most of it themselves.

We also wanted to break the dynamic of dependence – the cycle of someone with grant-funding coming and doing something for the community and then disappearing without empowering anyone doesn’t help in reactivating the High Street. So we stepped outside of giving people what (we think) is good for them and gave them what they wanted: space to work together, the power to decide and the power to change their mind if it didn’t work.

Building Confidence
Together we all grew in confidence as we tried things and they worked. Most obviously, some people showed and sold their creative work for the first time, but others benefited in more subtle ways.

Giving people the responsibility of deciding what to do and of delivering it means that they get to do things they might not have done before. Even those who had run or worked in the previous pop-ups gained from being able to focus on making good work and selling it, rather than the tedious admin and management responsibilities.

People in Sittingbourne are used to people saying “No” to them. Saying “yes” to everything meant that we were able to reduce scepticism and support a much larger number of artists than expected. And for every artist who put their work on sale there were probably twice that who didn’t bring anything in, but who went away encouraged and reminded of their creative dreams.

We were grateful in particular for the opportunity to work with young people from Sheppey through the YAF project and help many of them show their work for the first time, make decisions about how to present it and price it for sale. The festival’s poster was designed and laid out in the shop with one of the young people working alongside an older experienced designer/photographer.

Several artists, regardless of age, showed and sold their art work for the first time ever in workshop34 and while selling is not the primary motivation for most people, they did feel added validation when one of their pieces was bought.

Sharing Space
In most spaces, one vision has to win – here we chose to help the vision emerge from hearing everyone’s point of view equally.  People learned valuable skills in negotiating a common vision.

A challenge for this disparate group of artists, entrepreneurs and those who volunteered in the shop was to let everyone to do what they wanted and needed to do, but without preventing others from doing the same.

This was hard. People expected either someone to make all the decisions or else to be left to get on with what they’re doing and ignore the rest of the group. In workshop34 we encouraged them to negotiate conflicts over space usage. Whenever Lloyd was approached to decide who was right or who had the better idea, he always pushed it back to the group and got them talking to work it out for themselves. As a result, more things happened, people gained new skills in negotiation and learned to let go of their attachment to winning at all costs.

Creating Financial Flow
We didn’t want to just be a subsidised space that gave everything away. While we believe the High Street is more about health than wealth, making money is an important part of reactivating community.  Many of the people involved made money, and made progress developing business ideas.  We made great progress towards being self-supporting.

It was important for us to put the project on a commercial footing from the start rather than starting with everything free and then had to impose charges. Lloyd took the approach again of letting the space users lead this. We quickly established a 20% commission deal with no hanging fee for artists but whenever someone wanted to run a workshop or hire a room we talked through what they could realistically afford – most people were running events for the first time, or just starting a business and rather than put pressure on by insisting on a standard fee, we were able to work with them to find the best deal for all of us.

As it was, from the beginning of December onwards, we ended up taking just over £3500 in sales and workshop fees/room hire, three-quarters of which went directly to the artists, makers and workshop leaders.

9 thoughts on “Help Please: #workshop34 Final Report”

  1. I watched this project from the start and found the concept very interesting. This empty shop space turned into a bubbling pot which bought people together from all walks of life with energy, creativity, confidence and attitude. It made everyone responsible for what or did not happen, if you had an idea you deliver it – If you want something to happen you make it happen – Real power to the people – It became no ones project but everyones – and exciting

  2. This project became an oasis in Sittiingbourne High Street, with so many people benefited from being able to display their Work, learning and discovering they had a previously hidden Artistic Talent, or just browsing the displays and chatting with Artists and friends.

  3. This #workshop34 project is my very first experience where people with all kind of different backgrounds just came together for joining their paths, communicating with someone they never would have spoken before, just spending common time and more:

    Creating new ideas, producing, offering and selling their own products and / or services, getting consulted and shared new business strategies …

    And this in such a short time: Six months!!!

    The people’s meeting two weeks after this project had officially closed, it survives, and this meeting will grow regulary in visiting each other and joining the events, workshops, sharing informations what’s going on and what ever else.

    Thank you so much –

    Good to know there is love for Sittingbourne, yeah!

  4. I think the thing that worked best about workshop 34 was how inclusive it was. So many people in the Swale area have an appreciation for art and would love to have somewhere they can experience and feel involved. The are dozens of little art groups and hundreds of working artists in the area but having a High Street presence gives them a place where they can come together and work to improve, not only their own practice by connecting them with the public and like minded individuals, but also the community through pubic arts events and exhibitions.

    Workshop 34 was a joy to help with and I have memories of the project that I think will stay with me for a long time. It was great to feel like we could finally make a difference, but the comment I heard most over my four month stay at the project was “It’s such a shame it’s not permanent as it’s really good for the town.”

    1. Yes, dear @Dean Tweedy, it’s all about that Sittingbourne’s community got awake and felt attracted just popping into the #workshop34, meeting open mind people, their neighbours and got inspired …

      This #workshop34’s spirit survives and all the different groups will come together again – yes we will meet up and join each other’s meetings, events, workshops, courses, stalls and more …

      Good luck for finding a new store –

  5. Hi Lloyd
    Thanks for sharing, this makes complete sense to me and helpfully provides pointers for anyone planning something similar or related. The key points you’ve focused on feel incredibly useful. I’ll be mulling them around in relation to a project I’m working on.

  6. Hello Lloyd,

    Thank you so much for all the support, fun and thought-provoking ideas from you and the team during the Workshop 34 months. What a great experience. I used the space as my studio and gave mit e one of the first opportunities to show my work, I sold some pieces, I learnt lots of useful techie and arty stuff. I came to see bands, I made lots of contacts and grew my network and I got to co-create several performance events. A pretty amazing few months which have helped consolidate me on the creative road. What will be next?

  7. I had a good time at workshop 34 in the short time it was there. It was a good project and nice meeting a lot of different artists and it was some were the artists could come and sell there work and be really proud of .Its a shame its not a permanent place. Sittingbourne needs this and nice to have lots of classes going on day and evenings for all ages

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