by James Walker
I joined the Writers’ Studio about five years ago after a lot of persuasion from Aly Stoneman, who was the coordinator at the time. I didn’t want to join because I felt like an imposter; that I didn’t deserve to belong to what felt like such a prestigious organisation. And then I met some of the other writers and discovered they were boringly normal, and very good drinkers. Before I knew it I had somehow become a member of the Board and then, two years ago, the Chair. Helping develop a strategy for an organisation with around 135 members is a little daunting at times until you realise you have the expertise of 135 people to draw on.As much as I’ve loved being a part of the Studio I’ve always felt indifferent about the location. We currently live in an ivory tower, three floors up in a district of Nottingham with a fancy postcode. It is inaccessible, creates a sense of aloofness, and is far too high up for our Development Director Pippa Hennessy to throw down her hair and lure people in. I believe that this has had an adverse effect on interaction and may inadvertently have created small cliques, something mentioned in feedback sessions from members.It was perfect for our needs when we first moved to Sutton Place in 2008 (and when we moved across the street to the Broadway Business Centre, part of the same office complex, in 2011) but as our membership and objectives have diversified it’s now time for a change. So we’ve teamed up with Rob Smith of the Howie Smith Project and are taking over the disused pram shop at 25 Hockley, NG1 1FP. Our move-in date is 1 March 2014.
A word about Rob. He’s the kind of person the Writers’ Studio need to be working with because he has that rare trait: a social conscience. He specialises in taking over disused buildings and converting them into usable spaces for ‘creative types’ at affordable prices. I can’t emphasise how important it is to be working with someone with similar ethics and whose primary motivation is community rather than profit. We both want to see derelict spaces in Nottingham vanish and I’m proud that the Board has agreed to become one of the first businesses to invest in a community that is on the cusp of change. We hope that in doing this other businesses will follow and together we can help transform the cultural landscape of this neglected area of Nottingham. [see a LeftLion interview with Rob here]
One of our goals for our recently successful Arts Council Grant was to become a ‘community of writers’. Therefore we need to get into the community. Our new premises are street level meaning people can easily walk in and as it is so vast, members are more likely to drop by and do some writing. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done but I’m confident we will create one of the most attractive and ambient spaces in Nottingham.
There are two other reasons for moving to the new premises. Firstly, we can build offices on the ground floor which will enable us to eventually become a sustainable business. This is absolutely vital in the current economic climate. By renting space to similar-minded arts organisations we also open up the possibility for new forms of collaboration. Secondly, we will have the most unique performance space in Nottingham in our basement that you enter via a curling ramp. Close your eyes and imagine stepping into the basement of a 1930s Parisian jazz club. Visualise brick walls full of artwork and photo exhibitions. Oh and by the way, Alan Sillitoe’s desk will be in the corner watching over us as we start to build a proper legacy to our incredible literary history.
Words are important to writers and there has been one word that’s been niggling me for months. It’s ‘aspiration’. In her interview for her current role, Pippa said that writers should ‘aspire’ to join the Studio. This word is the driving force behind our current strategy and now that we have much larger premises to look forward to, we can accommodate a lot of inspired writers.
Please join us for the AGM on Thursday 6 March so that you can help us shape the new premises to your needs.