Dipping our toes into Fun Palaces

19 September 2017

Pam Cruickshank is a member of the library team in Gillingham, a rural market town in Dorset. Pam has worked in the library service for nearly 6 years but been involved in different community cultural projects since she was a school girl organising a fundraising disco. Fun Palaces have totally captivated her and she's so delighted that her community want to be there making and playing too. For years Pam has eyed people playing concertinas from a distance with itchy fingers; recently a community participant came in to help plan his activity for October's Fun Palace and she's finally had a squeeze.

Hosting a Fun Palace from a beginner’s point of view.

We are a library in Gillingham, a rural town in North Dorset, and are working on ways to develop the library as the town’s cultural hub. When it was suggested we run a trial Fun Palace in June 2017 we liked the idea and what it could do for our community. We had a blank slate as no-one in Dorset had previously had a Fun Palace and a great library building – so how to proceed?

"we approached local schools...tech companies, supermarkets and the water board"

Everyone a Scientist, Everyone an Artist: What an invitation!

In our team meeting we had so many ideas and quickly realised that if we chose a theme it could make it more easily achievable. We needed to make the implementation as simple as possible as we still had our normal work to do. The river Stour meanders through the town, it is part and parcel of the town’s history and culture. Our library building sits on a bend in the river and so we decided to “dip our toes” into Fun Palaces with a theme of “liquids”.

We asked some questions:

1. What did we already do that we could shape to fit our theme?

2. What contacts within and outside the library did we know or have contact with?

3. Which relevant organisations/businesses and artists might like to do some community outreach?

4. Which organisations that we had existing links with to invite?

5. How would we publicise our Fun Palace to encourage people beyond our users?

And found some answers:

1. We have some great “in house” activities: Book displays (fiction & non-fiction on any liquid from water to blood!), adult colouring & jigsaws (water scenes of course), a children’s make and take table plastic bottle “fish” and loo roll “otters”, a pop-up reading group (books with a liquid in the title), Liquid related TED talks on our big screen and finally we added a “River of Words” to our customer service desk where people could write their own liquid related word on a post-it note and add it to our “River”.

2. We have a few artists who are library users and with some conversations we were able to add an origami session (float your origami boat & look at its buoyancy), a watercolour art form called Brusho and children’s bubble art, CSI with the local police, a John Constable painting exhibit in the local museum (we’re attached to!) and the community choir ('There’s a hole in my bucket'). Our Fun Palace invitation was created for us by a user who is a successful artist.

3. We approached the local school’s science department who agreed to help visitors do Newtonian and non-Newtonian liquid experiments, the local supermarkets, a couple of technology companies, the local water board and a few others. Most said yes and our Fun Palace started to come together.

4. We attended and spoke at the Rotary club, the Chamber of Commerce and at local schools.

5. The local media supported us. We visited the schools, talked to the groups we are associated with, put posters around our town and flyers in the cafes. We were on Facebook, Twitter and were included in lots of Dorset “What’s On” web sites and of course the Fun Palace site.

"we had well over 1000 people (three times our normal footfall) on the Saturday!"

Our community had fun – lots of it!

Our doors opened on Friday at 1pm with the Mayor opening our Fun Palace by blowing some bubbles and then being put inside one! We had events from then until we closed on the Saturday at 4pm. The community response was tremendous - we had a busy Friday with over 300 people calling in and well over 1000 (three times our normal footfall) on the Saturday!

Our advice

Use the tools you have to plan: we had two staff members “in the know” in about each “event” in case of problems on either day. Pick a theme, welcome everyone (even if they go off your theme) and importantly keep it as simple as possible for yourselves. Take lots of pictures and send them with your thank you notes.

We’re running with the theme of “Home” for October - we’re excited - good luck everyone, have fun!

Stour embroidery

Gillingham's Fun Palace invitation