Fun Palaces is growing – and changing.

Stella and Sarah-Jane are stepping aside.

We are sad and excited to announce that co-founders and co-directors Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings are leaving Fun Palaces; Stella at the end of January, Sarah-Jane in late spring/early summer. Kirsty Lothian, our producer since the beginning, will step up as co-director, and in January we will recruit for someone (or someones, as we are all currently part time) to join the HQ team, working alongside our Ambassadors across the country, supporting the local Fun Palaces Makers who create Fun Palaces in their communities. 2020 has been a huge year for everyone, and Fun Palaces has been no exception. Communities have needed creativity and connection like never before, and Fun Palaces Makers, Ambassadors and team have supported each other, their neighbours and colleagues to make those creative connections richer than ever.Our development has always been horizontal rather than vertical and we are looking for people who can continue this ethos while supporting the growth of Fun Palaces. If this sounds exciting, get in touch. There will be a more formal call in mid-January, but if working with us sounds good to you, we’re happy to hear from you before then.

Meanwhile, Stella and Sarah-Jane explain why now …

From Stella:

On 26th January 2013, I called a D&D session about doing something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary on 6th October 2014. At the end of that 45-minute session, we had the idea of Fun Palaces in local communities on Joan’s centenary weekend. I left thinking that it was a nice idea but hard work and besides, I had loads of other things to do. But I had tweeted the idea and some people I trusted said it sounded good, so I did the only sensible thing, I asked Sarah-Jane to help me make it happen. She knew how to do everything I didn’t (ie. producing and funding, the important stuff) and we got on with it. Largely late at night when we had ‘spare’ time to work, always out of passion rather than obligation, unpaid for the first six months. And more people said yes, and people who had never led anything before said yes, and communities who had nothing to do with the arts sector said yes, and Fun Palaces became a thing.
It’s time for me to let that thing go.

Fun Palaces 2020 has been incredible. That it happened at all, that alongside deep loss and fear, individuals and tiny connections of people decided to work together to make Fun Palaces anyway, proved that handing over to community works. This is all I know how to do; help people believe they can do it, they don’t need someone else to tell them how to be creative and to connect. Joan Littlewood called it ‘the genius in every person’. She was right, it is always there, we find it by getting out of the way.

This is a great time to hand over, to Kirsty who has been with us since September 2013, to the wider team, to whoever new joins them. We have brilliant Ambassadors working around the UK and more starting in October 2021. Fun Palaces will have new things to do, they will be beyond my dreaming.

It is also time for me to work differently. I had my second breast cancer in 2014. Ten days after an 8-hour surgery I made our first major speech, I worked through other surgeries all year. This was entirely my choice and I could have done none of it without Sarah-Jane alongside. (I’ve said this many times, I really mean it.) Fun Palaces has taken all of my energy and much more, and it’s time to be gentler with myself. Eventually I hope to bring together psychotherapy, yoga and creativity – it’s a dream now, it will grow.

When I leave on 26th January 2021, it will be exactly 8 years since that first session. Leaving Fun Palaces is terribly sad, not least because of the amazing people we work with, from our own team to every one of the Makers since 2014. It’s also right.
I’m really glad I know it is time to go. I’m so excited for what Fun Palaces does next. 

From Sarah-Jane:

Seven years ago, in March 2013, Stella and I met at Maison Bertaux, an old French cafe in central London, with the most delicious cakes. I felt shy and rather fraudulent, she broke the ice by spilling her coffee and Fun Palaces was born.

Stella had come with an idea of Fun Palaces across the country to celebrate Joan Littlewood’s centenary and we left with idealistic plans to change the world. Littlewood was disenchanted with the elitism of the arts in the 1960s and fifty years later, it turned out, so were we. Her inclusive vision of a more “delightful” cultural future and her belief in the genius of everyone still felt radical and a perfect starting point for the disgruntledness we both shared.

Culture means so many different things but its etymology derives from the Latin ‘colere’, which means to tend to the earth and grow. That’s not highfaluting or exclusive. That’s back to basics, creative, instinctive, natural kind of stuff. That’s sustaining and nurturing and learning from mistakes. And that, instinctively, is where we knew we needed to go.

So Stella and I became a team and we haven’t stopped – it’s been an absolute joy. She is an incredible force – she is a dog with a bone – she is invincible. We’ve argued, we’ve laughed, we’ve doubted, we’ve cried (with exhaustion, with happiness, with worry, with compassion). We’ve made something happen that we can hardly believe.  But we can’t do it anymore. And Fun Palaces doesn’t need us anymore. In cat years it would be 49 – it should have left home years ago – but it hasn’t, so we are leaving instead.

We really didn’t decide to leave together – it really has happened serendipitously. Stella and I individually have been studying psychotherapy as well as working on Fun Palaces and in 2021 we can’t do both any more. But truly Fun Palaces is not ours to leave – it never really was. Fun Palaces has proven so decisively over the last nine months that it belongs to everyone and it can be whatever everybody wants it to be. It’s not about any one person, it’s not about any one skill or creative act, it’s about people in communities doing what they do, it’s about people in communities supporting other people to do what they do, it’s about nurture and growth and kindness and coming together.

It’s about taking responsibility for the world we live in and the people that are part of it. It’s about a more ‘delightful’ world where everyone’s creative endeavour is valued and we are allowed to have fun at the same time. I hope Joan Littlewood would be happy!