A man in an olive green beekeeping suit gives a presentation in front of a bar. Colourful 2D shape overlays surround his head.

Our origins

Founder and original co-director Stella Duffy writes about the beginning of Fun Palaces in 2013

On 26th January 2013, at Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled Open Space event, I called a session: “Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014, that isn’t another revival?” Here’s the original report from that session.

Joan’s theatre was brilliant of course, but she was more than ‘just’ a director. In the D&D session we talked about Fun Palaces, about the politics and community spirit behind them – an idea descended from the Pleasure Gardens, and the radical idea of People’s Palaces, public engagement at its most open and inclusive. We talked about the possibility of making a Fun Palace anywhere. Of it being an idea, not just a building.

I tweeted that maybe, and there were dozens of immediate responses, a wave of goodwill. And I thought we might make three or four Fun Palaces for Joan’s centenary, after all, everyone’s busy, and loads of good ideas don’t come to fruition … but I began sending the emails anyway (usually in the middle of the night, after a full day’s work) and within six weeks I had asked Sarah-Jane Rawlings to join me, and we began making it happen (with no funding, at our kitchen tables, usually late at night) because we both truly do want to support the development of cultural democracy, culture – arts, science, craft, tech, digital – genuinely led and made by, for and with every community.

It began with calling a session at an Open Space and being perfectly prepared for no-one to come to that session. It grew by asking the right people to come and help. It continued by doing the work required, long before there was funding or time to do it. And it grew, and grew some more, and now it’s this – and we’ve barely begun.

One of the main things we’ve always acknowledged is that community and interest and engagement is there anyway, already. What the Fun Palaces campaign is doing is simply providing a channel for people to come together, to make together. We say that creativity belongs to all of us, in our public parks and school playgrounds and estate carparks, as much as in our grand institutions and buildings. It is a way to be community, simultaneously, locally AND nationwide and internationally.

And it started with standing up in the middle of a circle and calling it in.

Stella Duffy, July 2014

Stella and Sarah-Jane both moved on from the Fun Palaces campaign in 2021, handing the roles of co-director over to Kirsty Lothian and Makala Cheung.

A bit more about Stella and Sarah-Jane

Stella Duffy – Fun Palaces Founder and Co-Director

Stella Duffy worked in theatre for 35 years as an actor, director, playwright, improviser, deviser and workshop leader. She is an award-winning writer with over seventy short stories, fourteen plays (written and devised) and sixteen novels, published in fifteen languages.

Stella regularly writes and campaigns about the arts, women’s and LGBT issues, and spend her time at Fun Palaces writing and speaking about Fun Palaces and the campaign for community led culture. 

She is an associate artist with Improbable. In 2016 she was awarded the OBE for Services to the Arts.

In 2013 she founded Fun Palaces with Sarah-Jane Rawlings, and was co-director for 8 years, until Spring 2021.

Sarah-Jane Rawlings – Fun Palaces Founder and Co-Director

Sarah-Jane Rawlings’ work includes Meet Me at the Albany, a pioneering Creative Ageing initiative at the Albany, Deptford, in partnership with Entelechy Arts and Lewisham Council and a research project for the Lyric Hammersmith on data capture.

She produced Storm at the Lyric Hammersmith, (with Graeae and Push), a festival of training and participation for disabled, Deaf, and BME artists; designed and managed a series of networking events for Deaf and disabled artists, and spent time with Lisa Hammond and Rachel Spence developing their first show, No Idea. Sarah-Jane was General Manager at Improbable from 2007 – 2013.

She also worked as a Theatre Officer at ACE London, with a responsibility for contemporary performance, at the Lyric Hammersmith and Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, managing their Education Programmes.

In 2013 she founded Fun Palaces with Stella Duffy.