So this summer, I was delighted to be asked to join the…. ermm, well, not exactly a ‘board’ more an advisory committee, a group of professionals to support/drive/encourage/advocate/beg on behalf of newly formed ‘Firestarter Arts’ a social enterprise and community interest company.
What! I hear you scoff…on earth… is a Community Interest Company!? Well I’m glad you asked because I know the answer to that one. A CIC is halfway between a company and a charity. Financial liability for directors and members is limited. CIC’s are asset-locked – any funds held by the company must be used to further the social aims of the company, and cannot be transferred unless certain conditions are fulfilled (ie the directors cannot make/take profits from the company, although people can be paid in the normal way for specific jobs / contracts). CICs can apply for many of the funds that charities are eligible for.
So that’s the science part and no sooner had I drawn breath than I found myself on a wet morning outside a corner shop next door to Gala Bingo with my daughter (in response to the request – can you find some young people and turn up here? Hmmmm not easy in the summer hols but my 17yr old daughter seemed keen enough to put her Macbook down for 5mins, so….) and a soggy group of assorted others being introduced to ‘The Unit’ an uninspiring empty shop unit seriously in need of re-decoration and some TLC. What followed was an enthusiastic response to Firestarter’s Company Director – Ruth Jones idea that ‘The Unit’ could be the future hub for young people in South Wiltshire taking the reins and making sure there’s a more positive youth scene by becoming an information point, an ideas factory, a lobbying centre…etc. Well it’s my community and I was definitely interested.
I have been working in youth Arts for some (coughs!!**) years (read as “long time”) and whilst my home town was a hotbed of creative activity in terms of gigs, theatre, and other related stuff when I was growing up, over the years actual events for young people have declined, maybe the fact that youth services has introduced a policy of all their activities leading to some sort of qualification (great but some young people just can’t deal with too much order and control in their free-time and others just want to have fun – not tick boxes) Plus the raft of health and safety measures/restrictions, insurance costs, liability, public order acts all contributing to a questionably ‘safer society’ having curbed the often spontaneous nature of many events. Even in my professional capacity as a project co-ordinator for national and regional youth arts projects – the temptation to ‘adultcise’ the event in order to do things the easy way is ever present. I digress. The point being that it wont be adults running The Unit but young people who had a passion for improving things and doing something about the lack of a ‘youth scene’ in South Wiltshire supported by a paid youth worker/manager and people like me, music promoter Colin Holton, veteran youth worker Keith Gale and Ruth Jones, who was once in a punk band and knows what its like, but that’s another story.
FACT no-one wants young people hanging round the streets causing a nuisance with their high spirits but if the shops and cafes shut at 5.30pm and the next bus home isn’t til 7pm then what’s a teenager/young person to do? Oh! Amuse themselves, of course! And what if, for instance, an up and coming band agreed to play a gig in the town on a Saturday night – FAB lots of young people can make their own way there, but the last bus went at 8pm and ‘erm mum and dad are out, so how do you get home? It’s okay, I’ll walk, it’s only three miles and there’s only a one mile stretch of main road with a teeny grass verge, it’s cool, I’m cool, don’t worry about me….. you see where I’m going with this? Yes YOU in the very trendy black gear with not a hint of glow in the dark material on you anywhere, or a coat even!! What if it rains!?? No parents, the answer is not, to lock them up in their bedrooms, or, to ruin your own social life by becoming a private taxi service its to empower them to speak up, ask for local transport to be run at weekends, talk to community groups, tell them there’s a problem, form partnerships, talk to the venue, the promoter, lobby other young people to have their say (draws breath) in short – find an empty shop and use it as a base for the start of making a difference, making a change…
So, lots to do, discuss, money to raise, Gala Estates and the staff at the Bingo have been really supportive and enthusiastic offering the lease at a reduced price and the people who set the rates have agreed to 0% rates. The youth advisory panel (for want of a better name) have been lobbying people for letters of support and filling in funding applications like there’s no tomorrow. People like, Helen Marriage – who once tried to run an open air music gig as part of Salisbury Festival and was told that it would be too difficult to police but undeterred moved on to bigger and better things and instead formed a company that saw a giant Elephant being paraded through the streets of London, have written letters of support :
“I think this is a fantastic idea and just what Salisbury needs. The city has always been somewhere where a co-ordinated approach to young people’s activity has been lacking – but what’s wonderful about your initiative is that it’s coming from young people themselves. This means that the information will be relevant and useful; it’ll be presented in a way that appeals to its target audience and the vibrancy and energy that goes into the project will spill out, generating new audiences and users of the events and facilities that are highlighted.”
So, you see, ‘shift happens’ subtle, slow, but gaining momentum – exciting times indeed.
You can befriend The Unit on facebook http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=124526919644 follow on twitter @_TheUnit or on MySpace http://www.myspace.com/theunitsalisbury/ or read their blog http://sstreetteam.livejournal.com