I get an email from Jacquie Campbell the assistant director of housing and neighbourhoods for the City of London. Would I be interested in discussing the idea of a community play for the City? More specifically, Portsoken a residential ward on the east side of the square mile.
September 23rd Tuesday
I call. Jacquie Cambell. She saw the Minehead play, Peter Terson’s Sailors Horse.; that must be 17 years ago. She was clearly impressed by it and had kept a community play in mind since then and now thought it might be right and timely for Portsoken. There’s a regeneration programme underway part of which is a new square for Aldgate due to be complete sometime in the Summer of 2015. A play might be the right thing to mark the occasion. More significantly a play would help bring diverse residential communities together. Jacquie asked what the first step might be. I suggested a meeting with potential ‘drivers and shakers who I could talk about the process. Following a positive outcome would be a three month study into it’s feasibility and co-opting a set up committee to support the study and prepare for public meeting and a community vote. Before that it was decided Jacquie would submit an internal application to fund the first phase.
September 24th Thursday
I received a draft application for the Portsoken Community Play that Jacquie had put together to comment on or make amendments,i made a few suggestions but It’s a clear strong proposal . We will wait and see. She submitted it the same day. Jacquie is clearly determined and outstandingly efficient.
This could be more than an exciting project. This is where London started; offhand I can’t think of a mere square mile of land anywhere that, historically, has had such a significant influence on the world.
September 30th Tuesday
An email from Jacquie apologising for the delay, she didn’t want to get started till funding was secured. It now is. II’m somewhat amused by the apology ‘for the delay’ I’ve never known a four day turn around getting funding. Amazing. We decided a date for her to get a group of people together for me to meet. It’s all happened so fast I can’t make a date till later in October.
23rd October Friday
Jacquie has gathered a group together and with her PA Rebecca Southin has arranged a meeting with key people in Portsoken at the Artizan Street Library. First person I meet is Steve Berwick who seems to run things at Artizan, and knows everyone a great character, and a a good start. He’s setting up the room. Jacquie and Rebecca arrive, friendly, enthusiastic, genuine - Jacquie seems very familiar I feel I know her from sometime past, can’t think where. People gather among them Caroline Masundire Associate Director of Rocket Science Kirsty Lietch - Community Development Officer works with Jacquie but very involved in Spice a community volunteer agency. Victor Callister Assistant Director of Environment Enhancement for the City of London. He’s especially interested in developing and improving the quality of the spaces between building, he’s working on the Aldgate regeneration programme, a hugely ambition project, the Aldgate Square is part of it. I gave a rundown on the process, takes about previous work and Jacquie explained her reasoning for a play and her experience of Minehead. There was clearly a positive response. There were key representatives and a general feeling about how the play was relevant to their own programmes and that it should move forward.
Took a tour of Portsoken including the residential estates, St Botolph’s church. Met Laura, the vicar who is very positive and is open to the potential use of the crypt as design making space. If the play were to happen on the new square the crypt would make great dressing rooms as they lead straight out onto it. The square will join up the church with Sir John Cass School, so their involvement will be key. Walked through Petticoat Lane which is in the Aldgate Ward. Thinking perhaps the project should be Aldgate and Portsoken, joining up two very distinctive, quite separate communities.
6th November Friday
London - went up to the office in the Barbican to meet with Jacquie and her PA Rebecca Southin. Passed Rebecca in the Aldgate Station selling poppies - there’s a real commitment to being in the community, engaging directly. She joined us later. We decided on a play project co-ordinator to work on the ground as it were collecting data, meeting people and setting up meetings and soundings. I’m to put together a job description. A three month post for three months (January to March 2015). Rebecca will post the adverts in house and among the volunteer service organisations - I think it best we keep the appointment local. It’s a short project period and having someone who has starting points will be helpful. We agreed an approach to getting a set up committee together, they will be responsible for overseeing the survey, advising on developing policies, timetables, aims and objects and recommendations and setting up and organising the public meeting in April at which point they’ll stand down to let community members form a steering committee; assuming we get a ‘yes’ vote that is - though we mustn’t assume anything at this point. Jacquie is going to identify and invite people to join set up team and cll the first meeting to explain their role.
17th November Monday
An E Mail from Jacquie with a list of people she’s invited to be on the set-up committee:
“ .You, Me (OK, those two aren't exactly a triumph of my persuasive skills, but still...) Steve Berwick - the manager of both community centres, and the 'salt of the earth' chap you met at the first meeting. Laura Jorgensen, the vicar at St Botolphs, who you met when we went to the church, Kirsty Leitch, our Community Development Officer, Fay Canning, who co-ordinates a forum for the business community. She's super-keen, loves the idea of the play and thinks we could definitely get sponsorship to help pay for a bespoke marquee, Tim Wilson, the Headmaster of Sir John Cass School. He can't attend the first meeting but will send someone, Caroline Masundire, who has done a lot of consultation and development work in the community. Hopefully Victor Callister as well and someone from Community Gateway, the organisation that delivers all our youth work. That'll make 9, and when we get our outreach worker, it'll be 10, which seems about right".
21st November Friday
Good stuff re history of the area from Rebecca (Southin):
" I have a bit more knowledge of the Shoreditch/ Brick Lane and Spitalfields areas which come under the Authority of Hackney & Tower Hamlets. You may find Cripplegate quiet interesting, which is in the City of London, I believe Hogarth’s ‘Gin Alley’ was based on this area in 1751. Bevis Marks Synagogue in Aldgate is also a good place to visit with interesting history. There is a plaque commemorating the life and death of Sir William Wallace, at St Bart’s – this was the site of his execution, where he was hung, drawn & quartered (a bit macabre!!)
To View Secret London Spitalfields click Here and The City of London click Here
I’ve started a History Time Line which I hope will prompt others to add more when we get it on line. We should create a website in the New Year or pages on communityplays.com.
9th December Tuesday
Meeting with the set up committee. Gave them the feasibility questions and laid out the basic programme for the months up to April and the public meeting. Kirsty Leitch is administering the project co-ordinator applicants, interviews and appointment when its made. Very happy about that. Spice and Kirsty are experienced in volunteer management and have great networks across the community. The set up committee between them have wide experience and knowledge - the process couldn’t be in better shape. Interviews are set for December 19th. Ive put tougher a job brief and work schedule - I reckon its something like 29 days work spread over three months. i’m to prepare draft policies to distribute to city officers to amend and ratify. The policies on Equal opportunities, Child and vulnerable adult protection, Volunteer management Guidelines. Health and Safety, Constitution and Steering Committee and Volunteer Team Briefs are all necessary to ensure clarity and best practice and are essential parts of grant application packages.
19th December Friday
Interviews and two especially good candidates. We will be appointing Fabio Negro who has experience in research and was very insightful about the aims and needs of the project. I was especially impressed about the research he’d done into Claque, the history and principles of community plays. He’s enthusiastic and very personable. He’ll be great. He will start in January.
I’m feeling very optimistic about what next year will bring