Getting a lift to the future?

Makeshift 2013 at the Newhampton Arts Centre

Makeshift 2013 at the Newhampton Arts Centre

Makeshift 2013 at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton, had a tremendous range of inspiring ideas and it will be interesting to see how many develop in the same way that the three which took off from last year managed to do.

The ‘unconference,’ aimed at finding new ideas and new ventures that people can make happen for themselves, heard that the gap fillers idea of bringing spare or waste land in the city had been developed as had Scribble and Scribe – volunteers helping people to get over the difficulty of filling in forms.

In Wednesfield a free organic garden had been established , vegetables successfully grown and distributed among people working the land and the surplus donated to charities in the city helping people in difficult circumstances.

The garden was still being developed and there was the possibility of other gardens elsewhere.

This year there were  high levels of energy and interest in the ideas pitched during on Saturday, November 9, and a positive desire for things to happen.

At the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans, which itself is expanding its activities to fill the college hall and offices at the front of the site, multiple ideas were pitched.

One was for book swapping – setting up ten locations (cafes, bars, community centres etc) in the city to swap/exchange books without cutting across the services already provided by libraries, bookshops and book clubs.

Jester’s Cafe in the Newhampton Arts Centre has been doing this for some time now so perhaps that can be added on to Jerome Turner’s list of sites. He is also already off the mark with a cafe in Wednesfield.

Steph Clarke of the WV11 website, which uses social media to engage the community in and around Wednesfield, talked about how Facebook and  Twitter and other social media tools could support initiatives at a community level. The website is at  where there is a contact form. The phone contact is 07855 409 319.

James Clarke, Steph’s partner outlined Lookup Wolverhampton – a photographic project looking at the wonderful and varied architecture of buildings in Wolverhampton above street level. An exhibition could highlight the rooftops of the city and views that many people may miss.

Another take on being positive about the city came from Paul Darke with Wolves in Wolves – putting large plastic sculptures of Wolves through every ward in the city and elsewhere involving communities, schools and artists and sponsors in creating the sculptures.

This would be similar to how Bristol had Gromits, Milton Keynes, Manchester, and Vancouver had cows and Liverpool had penguins.

People could then follow a trail around the city taking in the sculptures.

At the end of the event, over a number of months, the cows would be sold off to raise funds to fund another public art project. Paul is the director of the Outside Centre arts organisation, based in Wolverhampton, and can be contacted at and also has the Digital Disability page on Facebook.

Kevin Wilkins spoke about how people involved with Finchfield Community Association were looking at trying to take over the disused St Thomas Church and the land around it to create a community centre which could also help less advantaged people in the community.

At present, they say, the building is owned by a property developer who wants £195,000 for it. There is also a little possible legal difficulty over the way in which the church was vacated and a covenant left behind over its use.

They are looking for people to join them to produce ideas about the building and support from organisations who might be able to help with advice on their project.

Their email contact is and their website is at

They are also on Facebook at or Twitter @FinchyC

Angela Lewis, who runs Little Hippo Presents (@littlehipposhop on twitter) at Apley Farm Shop, shared plans for an arts and crafts co-operative and hub in the old boot factory development on the opposite side of the ring road to Sainsbury’s in April 2014 and a pop-up shop in the Mander Centre from January to March 2014.

Matt Henderson of Wolverhampton Friends of The Earth pitched for setting up a city centre for alternative technology which would demonstrate how people could save energy and even ‘live off the grid’ in the same way as the centre at Machnylleth in Wales had been doing for decades.

He can be contacted via their Facebook page, or by calling 01902 238539

Elliot Lord, of Our Own Future, who has been developing the organic garden with people in Wednesfield, argued for an upcycled furniture business which would re-use materials to create furniture with the help of designers and those good at making things.

Elliot can be contacted at and their website is at

SWEDA, who are based at The Business Centre, Church Street,  West Bromwich, B70 8RP, and aim to help grow the social enterprise sector in the West Midlands and to support community projects,  were there to flag up their work.

These include workshops at The Goldmine Centre, 14a, Lower Hall Lane, Walsall, WS1 1RL, and the resources they have to help projects.

Their way of operating and helping was outlined by Tony Andrews and they can be contacted on 0121 525 2558, by fax at 0121 580 0103, or by email at or the website at

Since Makeshift SWEDA  have been in touch with Elliot to express interest in the upcycled furniture project.

Rob proposed a custom build housing project where people can design and build their own homeswith the help of architects, designers and those with building expertise.

He has posted a form at for people to indicate an interest.

Christina from the not-for-profit social enterprise Schools and Community Arts Resource Facility (SCARF), in Colliery Road, which has been going for a decade, brought along examples of exciting and unusual materials which are often difficult to obtain but which had been donated and reused after being collected rather than thrown away by businesses.

Scarf is looking for a larger space to store materials such as paint and decorating materials and to help develop a tool library and distribution. They can be contacted on 01902 558603 or emailed at

Hirin Patel is trying to set up a community association, ‘a social steam engine’, to provide low level care and companionship for vulnerable people and Des Halestrap spoke for expanding an initiative in Pendeford where older people come together for conversation and companionship.

He would like to see safe and comfortable places set up all over the city which would also be intergenerational so that younger people could interact with the older generations.

Kathleen Fabre (find her on Twitter) went for Art on The Move – creating art at various sites around the city – including derelict and semi-derelict sites – and also at all major transport hubs and on trains, buses and taxis. There could be a trail leading from one art installation to another throughout the city.

Kathleen is on Twitter @KathFabre and on Facebook at

Julian raised the question of what should be free in the community and why? Food and water were touched on and also how that could happen.

Liz Millman led a session on building and developing international links and understanding through Wolverhampton International Links Association ( 07711569489

The association already lists international links through education and schools, development, business, health and care, families and community. It was also suggested that arts and cultural groups with international links could join in.

Makeshift itself is on Twitter @makeshiftevent, on Facebook at and has a website at

The person to contact is Sam Axtell, Consultation and Community Involvement Officer, Policy Team, Office of the Chief Executive, Wolverhampton City Council, Civic Centre, St Peter’s Square, Wolverhampton, WV1 1SH. The ideas textline is 07584 175348.

It would be great to see projects come to fruition and it was also really nice to continue the discussion in the Newhampton Inn afterwards.

At the same time as these great grassroots ideas for possible futures are being developed here – and in many more places as well – many resources and spaces for the general good built up over decades, sometimes centuries, are in danger of being swept away.

I don’t agree with the argument that ideas and projects like those pitched at Makeshift are a bit like building sandcastles on the beach while doing nothing about the economic and austerity tsunami that is only partly arrived.

Many fantastic developments that have had a huge global impact started in garages, sheds, back bedrooms, rooms above pubs and all sorts of unlikely places.

And many of them were developed in very adverse circumstances – think Microsoft, Apple and lots of great art – or even further back Marstons/ Sunbeam moving from bicycles to cars that beat the world landspeed record.

However, the neo-con/austerity agenda of making the people who never caused the economic crisis pay for it threatens so many things that are of great use to millions of people. True, it would be nice if people had a little energy/effort left to protect and help some of the good things survive – libraries, parks, public transport, public open space, arts facilities, gardens, schools, health facilities etc.

I know it is a big ask when people have to put so much into day-to-day stuff (I am still feeling the effects of Sunday doing catchup on the final? weeding/turning over) and growing their own projects but it would be nice to support efforts to save and keep on using assets which many draw great benefit from.

The other areas I was interested in were tapping into the experience already gained elsewhere and linking up with possible changes at a city level.

For example, Elliot’s organic/community gardens idea has parallels in the Incredible Edible movement in Lancashire and Yorkshire (Ramsbottom and Todmorden).

The Transition Network pulls together information on ideas/projects on a global/national and local scale as does Friends of The Earth and many other organisations.

There may well be a data base where these links exist but perhaps Makeshift could tap into these – without drowning folk under a rainforest of paper or computer overload of data. The final one – promise – was the way in which cities could and are being changed.

During the  week of Makeshift a book was published called Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.

Tackling the city issues

Tackling the city issues

My copy has only just arrived and I have not had a chance to read it through but as far as I can see journalist Charles Montgomery draws together positive experiences of changes in cities as varied as Bogota, Columbia; Paris, France; Copenhagen, Denmark, London and various others.

These include reclaiming privatised spaces for public use, moving away from cars to bikes, walking, clean public transport, local green energy development, incorporating art into development etc.

At the same time the New Statesman was running a piece about cities getting too big and what can be done about it – smart water, smart rubbish, building in green spaces, using new tech (solar home-lighting), agricultural hand pumps.

The summer edition of Friends of The Earth’s magazine Earth Matters also ran a piece on future cities which included recycling sewage, water harvesting, car sharing and urban farming.

Perhaps there is a strand of development here that micro-projects suggested at Makeshift and being pioneered by others elsewhere could possibly link in with.

However, I may be barking up completely the wrong tree. Will have another think when I have found the time to read the book.

I never pitched anything at Makeshift but I have had an idea buzzing around in my head for some time.

Why doesn’t Wolverhampton have a city wide festival to showcase all the fantastic people, art, dance, music, food and drink, skills and abilities that it has?

Codsall has one, as does Kidderminster, Stafford, Stone,  Dudley, Netherton, Lichfield, Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury, Brum, Walsall – in fact everybody but us.

I know we have the Wolverhampton Show, Deaffest at the Lighthouse Media Centre, , the beer festival (there’s a winter one this year at the Newhampton Arts Centre on Friday 13th December and Saturday 14th December), vegan food festival, the Junction Arts Festival in the Chapel Ash area and Central Youth Theatre have held international theatre and dance festivals but an all-embracing event which would give the lie to a lot of the negativity about the city might be nice.

Perhaps I will work up sufficient head of steam to pitch next year.

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