In summer 2018 we got a message from a lady in Peterborough who had seen us on Sunday Morning Live. She wanted to offer us a donation to support our work and invited us to visit…
We didn’t set up to take money from the public, so we suggested Jan might like to help start a ReSpace project herself. Soon she had put out the word through networks and online forums, that we were looking for a venue – and for groups interested in putting the space to good use. Excitement for the project snowballed and we had a few trips to the cathedral city to meet with the council to get their support and local groups – from community gardens and homeless projects to local boxing clubs for kids.
Within three months we’d been offered a launch building by a local councillor who privately owned a few properties in the area. He met with ReSpace when down in London on business and he was keen to get involved. He showed us the place – The New England Social club and Institute in the area of New England, Peterborough. And like that, we were hooked!
A first look in October – by torchlight round the New England club – was a touch daunting, dust hung in the air and coated the carpets. Piles of broken tiles and debris dotted the floor. It seemed impossible to consider the building being back in use in time. But we know the power of collaboration and so we planned to launch the project to the public in mid-December with a Winter Fair. We got the keys on the 15th of November and set about helping to establish a local team and obtain materials and resources to fix the place up.
It’s fair to say some elbow grease was required; scrubbing surfaces, painting walls, blitzing the kitchen, hoovering the carpet repeatedly. People came from all across the city and even up from London to help us get ready in time. Furniture was delivered and donated and Ned and the team worked tirelessly. Ivan, a core member from Hive Dalston, brought the toilets back to life – and we cleaned them again! Special thanks go to the Olive Branch Community Gardens, who sustained us with fruits, bread and pastries by the box load.
ReSpace delight in getting spaces up and running quickly for almost nothing – and the fair was a huge success! With an art exhibition, craft stalls, homemade food and live performances, we welcomed all sorts of people through the stalls to celebrate the new community space. We saw an impromptu gymnastics display from local children, heard poetry and unusual duets!
The hard work paid off and the project now has cross-party support from councillors in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. The team of local people, who have identified as ReSpace Peterborough, have done an amazing job opening up the New England to communities! After a short recovery break and some time to let the event sink in, we restarted activities in January with Coffee mornings, meetings, talks and recovery cafes.
A stand out day was Jaro’s Art Out event at the beginning of February, which was a wonderful medley of live art, exhibitions, kids’ workshops, music and of course, cake! Three pieces of art were sold and several new volunteers stepped forward to join the team and support the project.
Carla’s Coffee Mornings have been going from strength to strength thanks to Carla and Julie – each week guests double; up to 21 women turn up for tea and juice from the Peterborough Women’s Association and a growing number of homeless people (as many as 25) come for a hot lunch at least two days of the week. ReSpace Projects have been in conversation with the numerous local homeless organisations to explore how best we can support them in using the space for those living on the streets.
We’ve been so inspired by the way Peterborough has welcomed ReSpace – and want to say thank you for everyone’s support and positive energy. We’re proud we’ve been able to help a project so far out of our home in London, to open up a venue and successfully run a variety of community events, demonstrating the potential of wasted spaces in the city. We’re excited by the prospect of supporting the wonderful local groups to better access space and resources, to continue their good work.
See more on Facebook @newenglandproject or join the ReSpace Peterborough group.