Autumn 1997 now and we continue with our mix of personal ‘change your life’ sort of work – most of our work at this stage – and some work around being more creative in organisations.
And Sarah continues with one of the still abiding habits of her lifetime, and goes on a course in September to learn something new.
Home, meanwhile, continues to empty of all possessions we think might be getting in the way of our creativity.
Still, as we go into 1998 we are, as ever, eager for changes.
Our ‘personal programme’ as we call it is, by this time, large. Containing some events that are selling and will continue to sell, like our ‘Creativity’ course and our ‘Finding the work you love’. Some, like ‘Home’ and ‘Midlife’ that only run once or twice. And others that are never more than leaflets!
We run regular events in Manchester, but elsewhere they’re not selling. We try to launch in Liverpool, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Edinburgh but no. A note from the time observes ‘We’re mistaking busyness for income’.
We do have income coming, in March and April we’re back in Edinburgh working with Janet in Craigmillar again. But actually we’re increasingly feeling it’s time we reinvented a sense of place.
We run an event for ourselves and make up a wider and more ambitious purpose for what we’re doing:
“To be a creative spark which will help to make the world a better place – and allow us to live happy and fulfilled lives together. While we teach, learn and create with as many people as possible, and share the things we are learning from our creative lives.”
And we decide we’ll do more of this and reach more individual lives by targetting ourselves at organisations we reckon are trying to make a positive difference in the world. We realise our future’s not going to be found in selling single events directly to individual people. So we scale back the personal programme. Still doing some selling of multiple events as packages. But at this point we stop relying on this personal work to generate our income.
And the reinvention works. We start talking to organisations we’d like to do creative work with. They often as not lead us to others we hadn’t heard of or thought of. And the shape of our year and our lives changes once again.
First of all Trafford Hall, the National Tenants Resource Centre (now ‘Communities Centre’), where we’d run our very first paid event back in November 1995, start taking us on regularly to work with groups of tenants from all over Britain and Northern Ireland. It will take a while before we identify the work with them that will turn out to be one of the best things we’ve ever done. But we’re on the way and really enjoy and learn loads from meeting and working with people from so many different places.
Big art is still being offered and called for. And we do a particularly big piece at a conference celebrating the twentieth anniversary of TPAS (the Tenants Participation and Advisory Service). Sarah plans this as if it’s a big quilt of all the tenant groups within TPAS and hundreds of people come and sit quietly with us, talking about what they do and where they’re from, and contributing to the art by painting little squares about their own organisation, to build up to a big colourful whole thing.
Next Granada Television ring us. A producer there called Jo Hartley has heard about what we do through Anne McNamara, our friend at the Big Issue in the North. Jo is setting up a programme called ‘Live Challenge ’99’ where groups of people from all sorts of companies in North West England will come up with creative ways to raise charitable monies for a variety of young people’s and homeless people’s organisations. And she wants us to help the teams generate their ideas.
And we work regularly with Jo and the teams over the next year or so as the project eventually raises over half a million pounds and even releases a CD in collaboration with the Bee Gees as part of its fund raising activities. Sadly we never get to meet with, let alone sing with the Brothers Gibb!
Then before 1998 ends we begin work on what will turn out to be a major part of our future. Working with social enterprises. Enterprises which exist to do good things in the world as well as make profits. First, the Big Issue in the North. Then the Furniture Resource Centre.
We’ve known Anne and Ruth from the Big Issue in the North for a few years now. And Anne had been one of our witnesses when we got married. Early days of a sense of place we’d done a workshop with some Big Issue vendors, but now Anne and Ruth take us on to help them develop their management team and work generally with their people in Manchester and Liverpool on working creatively. And they also want us to work with them on a book, the story of what they’ve done over the previous five years of setting up the Big Issue in the North. It won’t be for publication. It’s for them and for the organisation they’ve founded. And we absolutely love doing it. Going through archives and photos and long hours of talking and working with the two of them in their new offices in Oldham Street in Manchester. Getting the story told.
Next we do something we will later decide to stop doing. We competitively pitch for work.
Liam Black, who we’ve first met at the Big Issue in the North, has recently become the Chief Executive of the Furniture Resource Centre (FRC) in Liverpool. FRC make and supply furniture for tenants who would not otherwise have any furniture. And furthermore, train and employ former long term unemployed people to make and deliver the furniture. A perfect model for a social enterprise.
And Liam asks us to pitch for a programme of work which will help him develop how the FRC management team and all the rest of their people can work together more creatively and effectively. Eventually it’s us against a very big name corporate consultancy (whose name time has mercifully erased from my memory). And we win it.
Thus beginning what will turn out to be one of our longest pieces of sustained co-creative work with one organisation. There will be laughter, tears, joy, frustration, much learning and deep satisfactions to come. And we will love, nearly, every minute of it.
But as we get going, late in 1998, frustration leads the way. And that’s because it turns out this initial programme of work is being funded by our old nemesis Business Link (the ones who’d told us our idea would ‘never work’). And before we can start work with FRC, Business Link decide they need to see my sociology degree certificate from back in the 1970s for some reason. I’d never bothered to pick this up and so have to get the University to dig it out of a cellar somewhere.
But anyway we get going with Liam and the team, and you will hear lots more about our adventures together. And before too long Business Link are left behind.
And we end our year of reinvention busy, happy and feeling like a completely different business from the one that began the year. Who knows what might happen next?
Next episode, look out we’re Crossing the century