From Tiny Revolution to Community Celebration

Penybontfawr Community Bunting

From Bethan Page, our Fun Palaces Ambassador in North Wales, hosted by our partner organisation National Trust Wales

I started making flour-bag buntings as part of my role as Fun Palaces Ambassador in North Wales. When lockdown was announced and it became apparent from flour shortages that people were cooking and baking, it occurred to me that flour bags were a good resource for creative projects.  My initial thoughts were that people might like to contribute to the making of collective buntings to display in public places post-lockdown. This soon felt inappropriate as reports of Covid-19 deaths mounted – post-lockdown didn’t feel as though it was going to be a time for celebration.  

I continued to make and promote the idea of making, displaying and sending buntings to loved ones during lockdown. I wasn’t under the impression that anyone had been inspired by the idea but found out later that the local school’s emergency hub and some Facebook friends had made buntings having seen my social media posts. Things turned an exciting corner when Lorraine who lives nearby agreed that creating a community bunting was a good idea, as a way to show appreciation for the staff at Penybontfawr village shop and Post Office who were putting themselves at risk to serve the community during the Covid-19 crisis.

A letter and bunting triangle template was prepared and hand-delivered to homes. The plan was to surprise the girls in the shop with applause and bunting waving.  I delivered letters alongside volunteers from the Penybontfawr emergency What’sApp group ‘Home Guard’, on a sunny April day when many people were out in their gardens.  Delivering by hand meant that I met some people I’d never met before and we were reaching people who didn’t have access to internet – one of Fun Palaces’ key ambitions during this period of social isolation. People were excited about the idea, loved the secrecy of it, and were keen to help and be involved. During what was otherwise a grim time for us all, there was a positive buzz in the airr.

It was during the distribution of the letter that some small but remarkable things started to happen – more tiny revolutions that wouldn’t have come about had it not been for the bunting project.  A gentleman who sells eggs was mowing his lawn when I called round to drop off the bunting letter.  He explained that his egg sales had plummeted – his 40 chickens were laying every day – he had LOTS of eggs as people weren’t calling in to buy them as they used to.  He needed to give them away or throw them away.  On his request I agreed to distribute some to elderly residents while I was on my letter distribution rounds.  This resulted in brief and warm at-distance conversations, with some people that I hadn’t met before. All were thrilled to be given half a dozen fresh eggs for free.  I rang the egg provider to report back to him.  Some recipients had already phoned to thank him and as he had plenty more eggs we agreed that I’d do the same again the next day. Over the two days I delivered a total of 16 boxes of eggs and met and talked to sixteen households. I loved the job!

Meanwhile, Penybontfawr households had started to make bunting triangles.  This involved decorating one or more paper triangles, sticking them onto a second layer of paper for strength and writing a message on the reverse.  An old kitchen cupboard with the door removed and with a plastic box inside was placed outside our garden gate, so that people could drop off their creations without touching anything.  

There was no way of knowing how many people would take part, but over the course of 3 days the plastic box filled up three times, with over 80 people taking part and some making their own short lengths of bunting.  Mari, a creative 9 year old, was ‘commissioned’ by her neighbours and made several lengths of beautiful buntings. Her Mum said she’d been busy for days and shared some photos with me.  I strung everyone’s triangles onto 3 metre lengths of cord – they looked amazing! 

9yo Mari’s buntings @BethanPage

People’s names were on the reverse, and being a small community and knowing most people I knew that the participants’ ages were from infants to 94 – I was beginning to think that this was an exciting Fun Palaces story.  It felt wonderful and exciting that we’d pulled it off, with so many people being involved on their own terms.  In total there were over 30 metres of bunting, created for a positive reason at a dark and negative time in our collective histories.

On the morning of the applauding and bunting-waving occasion, I hung them up temporarily between bamboo poles in the garden to take photographs – the sun was shining and they looked stunning – I thought this would be the last time we’d see them.  I took them to the area near the shop for people to hold – quite a few people had gathered very loosely, and we moved quickly and rather nervously due to the uncomfortable feeling of coming together when we shouldn’t.

We applauded and held up the buntings – Delyth, the shop keeper came out – she was surprised, happy and humble and gave a short speech – it was a short, lovely and rather emotional event.  A moment where we all connected and felt that strong bond of community.  It was soon over, and I gathered up the buntings to put neatly into envelopes back at home. 

Later that day I dropped them off at the shop and on Sunday afternoon while the shop was closed, Delyth hung them along the beams, with Mari’s short lengths of buntings fitting perfectly in the windows. It’s been a lovely story and I hope it will remain in our collective memories for a long time.