“In every one of them, in spite of their diversity, their different people and settings, he found the same spirit, the same sense of people coming home to the place, to each other”
- ‘ What the long, red-legged Scissorman did next’ by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement.[i]
The days are drawing in and by the time I arrive at the meeting the sky is darkening. In contrast, the meeting room is warm and bright. As the working office for the Salusbury WORLD refugee charity there is evidence everywhere of regular use: papers piled high, boxes crammed with activity kits and a recently washed assortment of colourful mugs and cups drying by the kitchen sink. The meeting room table is a jumble of schoolroom rectangles jig-sawed together and surrounded by long wooden benches complete with ineffectual cushions. These benches soon fill up with people and we exchange smiles as we reach for copies of the agenda. While this meeting room and some of the people in it are new to me, the food on offer is typically and comfortingly Transition Town in character: home baked apple pie and NW6 cider both made from locally picked apples.
We are at the core group meeting for a new community project, a Meanwhile space in the currently vacant Corrib Rest pub on Salusbury Rd. Present at the meeting are some of the core members of the Transition Town Kensal to Kilburn (TTKK) group. Also attending are representatives of Spice Caravan and Cycletastic – two local initiatives that are keen to be involved in the Meanwhile project. There is a manager of a local community sports centre and also some ‘Transition students’ one of whom is writing a dissertation on the Transition Towns movement. And then there’s me, TTKK member and enthusiast, local resident and now, blogger.
The meeting opens with excellent news: planning permission has been granted for the Meanwhile space. There are still many details to sort out, but this initial and essential first step elicits triumphant whoops. It is then decreed that we will continue with ‘whoops’ for good news/actions ticked off...and perform dramatic desolate sighs with heads dropped into hands at bad news/actions not yet achieved. I’m beginning to realise (with absolute joy) that this meeting and the people at it are wonderfully different.
Methodically we move through the agenda but it soon becomes clear that the underlying directive of the meeting is the need to understand the form that this project is taking, to retrieve the individual visions, assumptions and ideals within the room and verbalise these into a cohesive structure. Ideas thread together, voice to voice conjoining, weaving organically through assenting nods to take tentative form. Corrib Rest will be used as a TTKK community hub for at least 6 months. It will be a place that actively encourages community engagement and resilience, supporting local people and initiatives. It will retain its function as a pub but become a ‘community pub’ where community activities and workshops strongly feature. Intrinsically malleable as this early vision is, it takes on a tangible presence, and we hold it there, this formative bundle of hopes and ideals, as a beacon for forward motion.
With this vision now in front of us we move onto planning for the open meeting the following week. Emphasis is placed on reaching out to as many people as possible to come along and get involved. An email will go out to all the groups we can gather through our collective local networks. There is uncertainty about how well attended it will be...”Well, there’s 12 of us here, so if we each bring 5 people that’s 60 right?”someone quips. Also, we ask ourselves if we need a person to act as allocated event planner? “No, we are anarchic,” a core member jokes but then soberly adds that “we will all be there to support each other.”A statement that effectively sums up this group and their values.
Last but not least we decide on a name. And so Meanwhile @ The Corrib takes its formative steps.
Peering through the frosted glass I ring the doorbell, hoping I’m not the last one to arrive. The door number shines brassily, reflecting the street lamp in the dark street. I shift the bag of vegetable crisps, my last minute offering, into my left hand as I hear someone approaching the door from inside. I enter to a hand shake and a welcoming smile and am led to the dining room where familiar and new faces sit, meeting agendas held aloft. I’m not the last one in and once I’ve received my glass of NW6 mulled wine I too sit and make small talk, restless to get started. A dog investigates the newcomers, tail wagging and eyes roaming in anticipation of human attention, or perhaps vegetable crisp crumbs.
Eventually all the seats are filled, the dog curls reluctantly in a corner, and we start the meeting with a congratulatory air. The open meeting on the 18th of October was an enormous success. Over 120 people attended the Corrib Rest to hear about our plans and offer support. The pub, empty these last 18 months, had thrived with renewed energy. Tonight we are at the first core group meeting following this success and there is a justified sense of positivity filling the room. People share their stories of connections made, ideas generated and follow up meetings arranged. There are up to 15 local people already interested in using the co-working space. Ceramics workshops, Men’s shed woodwork skills, involvement from the local radio station K2K radio, and numerous local catering offers are just some of the emerging ideas for the project. We are buoyed up, the overwhelming response from the local community lifting our ideals and ambitions for the Meanwhile Space to even greater heights.
With enthusiasm running high, discussion moves onto the practicalities of getting this project off the ground. A draft business rates proposal is being formulated. Budgets are being clarified, tightened. Long term goals for the space need to be established and proposed to the local residents group. Procedures and criteria for activities and workshops are being written...and re-written. Words jostle around the room: inclusion, security, health and safety, governance, communication. There is still so much to be done and impatience trickles in. Discussion bounds enthusiastically forward to decisions that we realise we can’t yet decide. And so we backtrack, frustration surfacing at the succession of steps required in order to achieve our goal.
The positive response from our local community at the open meeting has boosted our motivation and drive. We are poised with anticipation, ready to go, and therefore restless with the hurdles in our way. As we begin to leave the dog stirs and fidgets, nose sniffing the night air with every opening of the door. Tomorrow’s walk can’t seem further away.
“Slow and Steady, the Tortoise, challenged him to a race.”- Aesop’s fable[ii]
Barriers, obstacles, hoops to jump through. Or over. Or around. Even getting to the meeting room had proved a challenge today. A group of us waited patiently for over 10 minutes by the wrong gate before realising our mistake. Sheepishly we take our places around the meeting room table, apologising for the delay.
And, as though deciding to move forward as we began, delays and misunderstandings become the meeting motif. There are still so many processes to go through. Legal agreements need to be written and approved. Building access arrangements need to be clarified. Meetings have been set up with elusive parties who then slipped through fingers. Frustrating circular discussions result from the confines of these barriers.
Ever silver-lining thinkers we use these enforced delays as time to form solid structures of governance, a clear vision for the space and a marketing strategy. Next week the group will elect the board of directors who will in turn appoint a centre manager. Newcomers still arrive and make generous offers of help such as marketing expertise. We have heard that kitchen appliances are available for loan. More local groups are coming on board. Someone knows a brewer who could turn our local allotment hops into liquid amber. The miasma is taking ever more solid form.
Today we eat a rye baguette that a core member brought along. The only one to bring food he placed it with an unceremonious thunk onto the table. Despite derisive laughter the baguette is soon demolished, eager hands tearing through the crust, pulling off chunks and sharing it around. Washed down with water this simple sustenance seems a fitting foil for the complexity of the discussion and decisions being made.
And despite the frustrations and delays, decisions are being made. We move constantly forward, fuelled by optimism and the residual momentum from the open meeting’s success less than a month ago. Slow motion but continuous motion. The tortoise does win after all.
On my way to the meeting, rushing as usual, my mind wanders over the name ‘Corrib Rest’. Wiki had filled me in a little, “Lough Corrib is the second largest lough in the island of Ireland”, and apparently the place name ‘Corrib’ derives from ‘Oirbsiu’, a mythic god of the sea. Delving a little deeper I find that Oirbsiu, also known as Manannan mac Lir, was connected in Irish mythology with the notion of ‘regeneration’. Considering the aims of our project this feels like a good omen.
I arrive to the warm glow of a core member’s living room. No meeting table today, we sit in a circle of chairs and sofas, a coffee table replete with drinks and snacks placed in the centre. Introductions and apologies given we start the meeting with a wave of good news. We’ve been promised that we’ll have our draft agreement to occupy the building within the next 24 hours. We have two meetings arranged at the Corrib over the coming days to kick off the building essentials such as wifi, plumbing, kitchen work, security and health and safety checks. A group of volunteers is forming to help ‘beautify the space’ and get the Corrib back to working order. The agreed target is to officially have the keys to the building in three weeks time.
The momentum of the project, contained somewhat during this period of procedures and legalities, is ready to push forward once more. As we sit discussing all of these positive advancements the living room is charged with energetic anticipation, our ears pricked for the starting whistle and the resulting relief of purposeful action.
With the upcoming flood of activity set to take us ever closer to the opening of the Meanwhile space, it seems a pivotal time to solidify the backbone of the project. The meeting moves to the main business at hand: governance and electing the board of directors. Since our meeting last week emails have circulated within the group in regards to the proposed structure of the board. As with any project, these early stages of forming the leadership structure are essential in ensuring its longevity and success and there are often different views on how to do this. As a result there is a palpable tension in the room. What follows is a demonstration of how the core values of the people behind this project can be used to simultaneously resolve and respect differences, shifting the mood from dissonance to accord, from isolation to togetherness. Optimism, honesty, experience, intelligence, sincerity, trust and a collective desire to make this thing work, and work really well, results in a complete dissolution of tension. Through open and inclusive discussion we undo the knots of misunderstandings and miscommunications. Through professional procedures we move swiftly and decisively through voting the structure of the board. The board of directors are then voted in. Meanwhile @ The Corrib is in good hands.
Travelling home I reflect on how much our planning meetings have involved a sense of motion or restlessness. Each week we have moved from different meeting place to different meeting place. Each week we have discussed and acted on steps to move us ever more forward. With clarity I understand how our insistent eddying motion has been carrying us towards our goal: the creation of a place for the community to come together, to stop and share ideas, skills and a sense of place - together.
Rest: Come to rest, to stop, usually in a particular place.
[i]From “There was a knock at the door- 23 modern folk tales for troubling times” edited by Andrew Sims
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