Making a green Fun Palace in the Swale

10 May 2016

Sioux Peto and Colin Barnard run Polka Dot Arts - a small arts space in Teynham where they make a mess! Their main focus of their work is the environment and recycling. They like their projects to connect people to the places where they live, looking at and making use of their surroundings. They have produced large scale installations to highlight the problem of littering, green festivals in the beautiful Swale countryside and made pop-up spaces such as their Fun Palace which gets local non-arts communities and artists together increasing participation locally.

Why is Fun Palaces important to you?

I heard about Fun Palaces back in 2014 through the Kent Baton – I loved the name as it conjured up a magical place that could exist anywhere, for anyone, about anything but at the time we were busy with other projects. Luckily last year we could get involved. It's such a great concept - art and science for all. Loved it from the beginning and really without much money or preparation – it happened and WOW it was magical.

The Fun Palace website is easy and free to use and we it found essential in promoting our event especially via social media. The Fun Palace staff are totally fab, friendly, helpful and patient. They really believe in the concept and are positive which is infectious and really helps motivate makers – thank you. The fact that they encourage Fun Palaces to be run by local people for the local community is really central to our work and Fun Palaces take on a persona of their own. There is no high brow, elitist happenings that no one understands or is intimidated by. This is for real people.

"This is for real people"

How did you get started?

We were very lucky to be working with a new project trying to save an old church which is an Ancient Scheduled Monument in the middle of an industrial estate. The murston heArt project proved to be the perfect venue for a Fun Palace. Murston is one of the most deprived areas of the country and the old church sits defiantly amongst the steel and concrete of the Eurolink Industrial Estate.

Organising a Fun Palace was amazingly easy, things just flowed. Murston has no cultural centre or festivals of its own. It’s a small area that has been eaten up by nearby Sittingbourne, but the people are proud of their heritage and where they live. It has a huge past of brick-making and recycling - both of which still continue today. Just by being there we met local people that use the space to sit in, walk their dogs, children who play in the little trees and bushes, people who eat lunch there and relax, and best of all they loved the idea of the Fun Palace without even having to explain it in detail.

A wonderful lady who I had known in the past was now with Swale in Bloom and contacted me out of the blue to get involved, a colleague Ali has done wonders gardening, planting and tidying the grounds. Swale Borough Council had a new environmental project officer who heard what we were doing and offered to help. Everything seemed to fall into place like serendipity. I got two small village schools to help with our Sunday installation and this year it will be wildflowers made out of plastic bottles with three schools involved.

Advice for other Makers

Swale Borough Council have been great, we were awarded £1000 from their new cultural grants along with £250 from our local Rotary Club. We would advise everyone to seek out their local councillors and check with local organisations who often have small awards to give out. You will need money. Public Liability Insurance for you and your volunteers, Temporary Event Licenses (check as you might not need it) Risk Assessments (check the Fun Palaces toolkit for an example), materials etc - even tea and coffees soon mount up.

I also learnt about hiring toilets and using a generator – important – trust me – I have always had venues with facilities and electricity.

But finally just go for it - the name and positive thinking are enough.

Fun Palace Makers, Karen and Colin

Fellow workshops artists Karen and Tina enjoying a quite moment