Continuing the story of us. It’s Spring 1997 and we’ve just got married.
And to be honest the local work around Liverpool and Manchester is not forming an orderly queue. We’re still running our ‘Transform your life’ personal programme, but really want to reach greater numbers of people by working with more organisations than we have so far.
So we start working in Scotland. Our friend Janet had moved there after working with me on her future through our course ‘Finding the work you love’. And she’s now running a business in the community type organisation in Edinburgh called Friends of Craigmillar. (Now called Community Connections)
She asks us to come up and run a programme she’s got publicly funded through ‘Scotland Against Drugs’. It’s for people whose lives have been affected by the addiction of either themselves or close family members. And it’s not to cure them of their addictions, no one pretends you can do that in a few days of workshops. But rather it’s about giving people a safe place to talk and dream about what they’d like to do as part of having the better lives they’re now reaching for.
We do loads of art with them. Painting, collaging, story telling, even teaching the basics of meditation. As well as us, the workshops also come with gentle massage sessions from therapists, so people can start feeling at home in their bodies again.
We do an introductory weekend in March, then follow-ups in April (and do the programme again for new groups of people the following year) and people really do start doing things to change their lives.
Everyone who comes is from Craigmillar, Niddrie Mains or Greendykes, all at this time socially and economically depressed parts of Edinburgh (Craigmillar had recently been used as the setting for ‘Trainspotting’ – Danny Boyle’s film about the Edinburgh drugs scene. Thanks Danny). But of course people are people, and as we’ll find many times over the years to come, given the right setting and with access to their own innate creativity, they begin to not only dream, but also to take actions. Better lives start being pieced together before our eyes.
Health visibly improves, friendships are made, college courses are signed up for, jobs are being applied for. It’s practical, it’s aspirational and we love doing it.
Having gone more or less straight from our wedding to beginning the Craigmillar work, later that spring we go to Stoupa, in Greece for our honeymoon. There Sarah staggers me by saying she’s not feeling very creative. So most daytimes while we’re there I guide her through our own Creativity course. Which she loves.
Back in Liverpool some work has in fact turned up while we were away in Scotland. And we start working with people in tower blocks and high-rise housing in Norris Green on what they want their futures to be like. Collaging is again involved. These are the days of big dreams being turned into big art. And then into practical plans.
These collages are often worked on at several events. Building up ideas for the future gradually as we go. Sometimes people paint and write their own pieces of the collage. Sometimes Sarah paints what people are saying.
We feel like we’re on our way.
And then we do what most new businesses would do back in the mid-nineties. We spend a load of money on print. Brochures and folders to advertise ourselves. And make our arty, creative ideas seem more real for the individuals and organisations we’re hoping will take us on.
Sarah enjoys working on the designs and I agonise over finding just the right words to describe how unusual we are, but without frightening people away. And when they’re finished, the folders (pictured at the top of this post), the brochures, the post cards and the business cards are truly lovely. And the thousands we spend on them almost a total waste of money.
Then as now, most of our work comes through word of mouth, sheer happenstance and us deciding what we’d like to do. We were never a mass market company selling standardised products. But it will take us a while to realise that therefore mass market methods won’t work for us.
So meantime we lay out our folders on the living room floor. Put in brochures, collate leaflets and pack them all into A4 envelopes to mail out to unsuspecting potential customers. All to hardly any avail. And just before the internet will make all of that kind of thing redundant anyway.
Which brings me to our first computer. Up to now we’ve done everything by hand. But folders need leaflets to go in them about proposals or events. And we decide these will look better, more ‘professional’ if they’re not hand-written. I’m not sure now that we were right to decide this, but computers and their capabilities will, in time, change our enterprise.
Not this first one though. It’s passed on to us by Frank Horton, Sarah’s Dad.
No colour, no internet, but lovely and tiny. And fitting in perfectly to our ‘living with less’ house.
And as the lovely summer we have in this year flows on, and we’re starting to come close to a year since we began to look seriously at leaving our jobs, we sit on the step in our yard one balmy night and – as you can see, we are radiantly happy with how our adventure is going.
Next episode? Seems too soon, but it’s reinvention time.