Anyone can make a Fun Palace. Really, they can. Even me. My day job as a writer (and occasional helper of anything to do with creative and academic work), is often reliant on others. I sit at my very lovely desk trying to transform exciting new ideas into longer pieces. I’ve written loads for Radio Four, some theatre, some prose and am still trying to make that first break into TV, the latter has meant writing a little for money and a lot for no money. At the moment, I am still waiting on a TV series that has been in ‘development’ for two years…the next phase is in my producer’s hands. I love those hands, but they are leafing through so many other scripts and I am not a priority. And that’s just how it is.
Sometimes my ideas work, sometimes they don’t. Mostly I sit around waiting for others to make decisions for months or years or never. I rely on other people to help make my work, to take my work to the next stage in its development, but other people are, generally, not as speedy in their response as I am, or they have other projects on the go by better-known writers, or my ideas don’t fit their current need. That’s how the world works. But it’s not the way I work. I am speedy, proactive, I get on and do and try and make happen, rather than sitting around waiting. I hate waiting. I am one of the most impatient people I know, if not THE most impatient.
When I decided it would be bonkers and fantastic to have a Fun Palace at my local beautiful Art Deco pool, Brockwell Lido, I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve never produced anything on this scale. Writing is a solitary job, and when my work is done, producers and directors do the next bit. My wife, Stella Duffy, and her co-director of Fun Palaces, Sarah Jane Rawlings, are facilitating the entire, national and international Fun Palace events, on the weekend of 4th & 5th October. Of course there are those who think it’s easier for me because my partner has facilitated the entire event, but she has had nothing to do with our Fun Palace, hasn’t been to one meeting, or had any involvement with our schedule. I said from the very beginning, Brockwell Lido must have a Fun Palace, because it’s a place I love, a place I spend a lot of time, a place where the community gather, to swim, gym, chat, watch outdoor films and eat. It’s not called Brixton Beach for nothing. I like challenges. Trying to find a way to make a Fun Palace work at Brockwell Lido – an outdoor, unheated, Olympic size pool in October has definitely been a challenge. One I am loving. But where to start?
I put out a call – and a group soon formed. We are the Brockwell Lido Fun Palaceers. Some are friends, some are strangers who have become friends, some are friends of friends, others are friends of strangers. We are from different backgrounds, but the thing that unites us is our passion to make our Fun Palace extraordinary. We have met twice at the Lido Café (who give us their space on a Monday night when they are closed). A third meeting is happening soon to finalise our schedule of events. We have gathered and planned and plotted and laughed and worried and always been excited at the possibilities. We have talked risk assessment, bunting that has to be high enough so no one is strangled, no glass or alcohol poolside, etc. We have scribes who take notes at our meetings, and emails them or puts them on our Facebook Page. We have thought about Joan Littlewood’s words, (Stockwell-born Joan dreamed up the initial idea of a Fun Palace, along with architect Cedric Price), ‘Everyone an artist, everyone a scientist.’ We asked ourselves what exactly our idea of a Fun Palace is. It’s for the community, it’s a way to demystify and democratise the arts, being creative or academic or scientific is not just for people who go to university. And It must be free and it must include fun. People say, those kinds of events happen all the time, and we respond, yes they do, BUT not specifically created by the community for the community and for free. I am not getting paid to do this. No one is getting paid. As Joan Littlewood said, ‘If we don’t get lost, we’ll never find a new route.’ I excel at getting lost. But there is always a new and often surprising route waiting for me and sometimes it is not one I imagined. How to find a scientist, specifically one who can talk about water? The friend of a stranger came on board pretty much straight away. She delivers shows about water and science and the body and water. What were the chances? And then there’s our eco games specialist, who, for a living, puts on eco games with her company, i.e. an eco version of Bingo. And these wonderful, generous, inspirational people have come from contacts, Twitter and Facebook. Social media has worked its wonders and is working at its best to put our community in touch.
Other BLFPs are creating a Victorian Seaside, a human chessboard, we have kayaks and the possibility of swimming with mermaids and a water walker. Herne Hill Forum is contributing canopies and anything else we may need. Brockwell Lido Café is putting on an all day BBQ at 50% the normal cost – this is the only paid-for service and they are providing it at break-even cost. Two local schools are involved, people will be able to draw on those great big paving slabs, and hopefully we’ll have live music and a dance hall…so if you’ve ever wanted to learn to waltz or quick step alongside a swimming pool, October 5th may just be your chance.
And the best thing about this is that it’s not about me. It’s about us, my fellow Brockwell Lido Fun Palaceers, Brockwell Lido, Fusion, our community, individuals and organisations coming together. With the help of my collaborators – and this is very much a collaboration of makers, artists, musicians, scientists and more – we have a schedule of events that makes me wish our Fun Palace were happening next week.
And it all started with an idea…a possibility…and saying YES to making it happen. And not being afraid to ask people to do something for free.
It’s been by far, to date, the fastest and most rewarding creative challenge I have ever faced. It’s given me a new tool for my own work, taken me to places that have filled me with enthusiasm, introduced me to people I would never have met otherwise, introduced me to more of my own community – it’s enhanced my life. South London, in particular SE London, is often given a hard press. We are supposedly dangerous, dark, unsafe and unfriendly and yet we have the most Fun Palaces taking place in any area. We are generous and supportive and our community spirit is strong, you just have to go look for it. It’s there. In Brockwell Park, at our schools, Herne Hill Market, the pubs and cafes and in Brixton Village.
And while my working life still relies on others to make up their mind, to read and respond, to accept or reject or just give encouragement, co-making a Fun Palace has made me realise that there is a whole lot of people who are willing to collaborate, say yes, give their time, their experience, in order to make something monumental happen in their area for their community and all for free.
On Sunday October 5th 2014, as the sun sets at 6.29 pm, BBQ on, ukuleles ready – and any other instruments anyone wants to bring to join in the ‘fireside’ sing-along – we will raise a plastic glass (risk assessment, NO breakables and NO fire) to Joan and Cedric and their dream coming true. We will raise a glass to the possibilities and remember that community is what it’s about, helping others, perhaps giving them a gift to take away, making something remarkable happen because we can. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to swim with a mermaid.