I keep wanting to cry and sigh and laugh and wail and beam and all at once – made even more sighing and crying and wailing and beaming by the astonishing leaving do (necessarily online) with loads of people in person and many more on a gorgeous film of Makers from all over the UK and beyond.
I’m leaving Fun Palaces, 8 years to the day I first called it up at a Devoted & Disgruntled session. Exactly 8 years. In transferring the many many files to a usb to pass on to the FPs team, I see I even started a folder for Fun Palaces that night. While my conscious brain thought it was a one-off, a maybe, a thing I didn’t have time for but might manage to do something anyway, clearly some other part of me knew it would be so much more.
I could never have guessed how much more. From local leadership to public engagement, from policy and strategy change to tiny (and vital) community connections, Fun Palaces has done astonishing things in just eight years.
We’ve done it by not knowing how. We’ve done it by not trying to know how, by working it out on the job, by seeing the gap and finding out what fits, by risking screwing up day after day after day – by often screwing up and then learning from that and getting on anyway.
We’ve done it by working absurd hours, Sarah-Jane and I working for free for the first six months, by under-paying ourselves (yes we are offering the new co-director more), by giving everything we have to an idea, to the possibility of genuine inclusion and change and hope around culture and community. We’ve done it by working through minor and deeply serious illness, by working through tragic losses. I do not recommend doing any of this. Ever. And yet, that is what it took to get us to here. Less than a dozen people at the core at any one time and tens of thousands of Makers we have been responsible to – not responsible for, responsible to.
I am so proud of our work, of our influence, of the offers we have made.
AND there is way more to do.
A more to do that someone else, someones else, need to take on.
A more to do that I can’t dream or imagine, that needs new dreaming, new vigour, new risks, new failures.
So this is my thank you:
– to my wife Shelley for understanding that this absurd passion project of mine was always going to need my attention (including on holiday, late at night, early mornings …)
– to my partner, Sarah-Jane, without whom (literally) Fun Palaces would not exist
– to Kirsty and Hannah for saying yes so early on, and to Kirsty for generously stepping over to the co-director role now
– to Conni and Ravina because we know, we’re not always the easiest people to work with
– to Dan who has always helped us dream as big as we wanted
– to Emily who has represented us in stunning illustration from long before we knew what we could be
– to all of the ambassadors, present, past and those who will join us later this year, for shining the light where you are
– to everyone at The Albany and to Gavin for saying yes right at the start
– to TRSE (particularly Kerry, Mary and Karen) and especially to the wonderful Murray Melvin for giving this bonkers idea his blessing
– to the amazing women leaders who all said yes and made me think it might be possible
– to the (slightly fewer, but also amazing) men leaders who championed us (and me) all along
– to Joanna who was a generous and much needed donor, very early in our work
– to everyone who has ever put up with my fury and (un/righteous) indignation. As for the many who dismissed it, I still think you’re wrong, quite simply, culture is exclusive unless it is for and by everyone.
– to the academics who not only found us interesting but also useful to their work and helped me live with my academia-imposter-syndrome to such an extent that I’m now working towards a doctorate (go figure)
– to the people who came to that first D&D session on 26.1.13
– to the fantastic “Fun Palaces Task Force” of mates who rallied around (especially when I was only just out of hospital from 8 hours of cancer surgery) and helped set up and run our first public connection events at TRSE, the SouthBank and the Roundhouse
– to Kerry and Jude and to Nicola who shared their shiny buildings (and therefore shiny impact) with us, giving space for our messy, scrappy idea way back then
– to Joan and Cedric for the absurd, expensive, over-the-top glory of a single vast building for everyone, and for the core of the idea underneath, which never needed a building anyway, because it was always about the genius in everyone
– and above all, to the Makers. The people who jumped in and said yes and made a local Fun Palace anyway, often with no practice or ‘proven’ skills or experience. Who did it because they wanted to create something in and with their own local community, and became leaders in the process.
Fun Palaces has been on-the-job leadership training, for all of us.
Very early on, long before anyone thought we had a good idea, Sarah-Jane and I had a meeting with a senior funding person who said, “Sounds great, but can you guarantee the excellence?”
Our reply was, “No, but we can guarantee the engagement, and that’s what matters.”
The excellence was not – is not – mine (or any of ours) to judge, the engagement is the point of culture, it is about connection.
2020 was an incredibly hard year to make Fun Palaces, and we did anyway. The Makers did anyway. Because that’s what we’re like – we do it anyway. This film is the last big Fun Palaces thing I’ve worked on.
It is EVERYTHING that matters about Fun Palaces and about the brilliant people who make them – it is connection and spirit and heart and community. It’s love.
This move is right for Fun Palaces, it is very right for me – AND I’m crying.
Thank you to all of you who came to play. I have loved all of it, including the incredibly hard parts, and I am deeply proud of this work. I may never make anything as valuable again. And that’s fine.
ps – if you’re starting a movement, I would recommend judging those you meet by who offers to buy the coffee. SJ and I were astounded how many times the ones with proper jobs, when they invited us for a meeting, when we were making FPs out of nothing and with nothing, also expected us to buy the coffee. Who buys the coffee tells you an awful lot about who will be helpful – and who won’t – in the long run. (And the ones who buy your train ticket to the meetings they’ve asked you to come to – they’re GOLD. And painfully rare.)
pps – two things about Fun Palaces: it’s not a fucking fete; it is nothing less than radical social change, tiny revolution of connection by tiny revolution of connection.