Unearthing hidden untapped talents and genius

Edwina Osborne made the first Leighton Buzzard Fun Palace in 2021. Now in planning for it’s 3rd year, she reflects on her journey so far, and shares advice on how you too could start a Fun Palace in your local community.

“I originally decided to make a Fun Palace because I think it’s a really great community based initiative which I love and makes sense. I’m the type of person who likes to bring people together but am also essentially quite lonely.

Fun Palaces is a great way to combat loneliness and bring colour and togetherness to a local community.

The original concept of Fun Palaces in the 1960s said this: “Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.” How amazing is that idea! It’s in our gift to make it anything we want it to be.

Edwina Osborne – Fun Palaces Maker Leighton Buzzard

I’d originally heard about Fun Palaces living previously in London and knew that Arts Depot made one. Although I never actually attended, I knew with the right opportunity that it would be great to try and organise a Fun Palace in some way. I moved to Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire in September 2019 and in my spare time I run Totally Locally Leighton Buzzard which is a completely grassroots initiative focused on local community events and activities and shop local campaigns that make our town an even greater place to live. 

I am not a particularly creative or artistic person. I work as an appointments manager in government and also don’t run events for a living. I have no specific experience in events management, other than organising a few events at work. So to organise a Fun Palace was a leap of quiet faith and determination to make it happen, especially since I am organising it in my spare time and with minimal support.

It seemed scary to start. I suppose it depends how ambitious you are really, but when I do something, I like to do it as thoroughly as possible. 

When I ran my first Fun Palace in October 2021, the first thing was actually decide to go ahead and do it and make a commitment to make it happen. But it was also important to not be too hard on myself, realise my capacity and what’s feasible and possible – if you’re one person juggling other things in life and don’t have a big team behind you and you also need to be kind to yourself and try not to be too ambitious – Fun Palaces always talk about Tiny Revolutions of Connection, so it’s okay if you’re not doing something huge and shiny.  A handful of people coming together is fine. 

Once I had decided to press ahead, I had to get my ducks in a row. Last year I only started to seriously plan for October in August, which was actually quite late and would recommend planning earlier if you’re able, especially given need to book venues and confirm Makers attendance and of course advertising and promoting in advance. 

First I needed to ensure there were people to share and lead activities and be actual Makers. In the first year I had about five or six people. I put a call out on social media, and some posters and assembled a small group of volunteers – the local Arts Society, local printmaking, local theatre group and local bookbinder and others. It’s surprising who you know and what skills they have when you start talking. I always think I don’t know many people, but then actually do through friends of friends and so on. I am massively grateful to all the volunteer makers who freely gave up their time and energy to support on the day. 

Second, was find a venue and explore all of the options. I did that by Googling and visiting a few potential venues. Last year I chose to hold the Fun Palace at the local Friends (Quaker) Meeting House, which had a community room hire rate and a lovely green space at the back.  

Third, I also needed to arrange public liability insurance and sponsorship. I wrote out for quotes for the former and approached a few local companies for the latter. I was delighted when a local Estate Agent, Fine Homes Property, agreed to cover the cost of the venue and the insurance – which was £120 in total. They were happy to help. I’d definitely recommend trying to find sponsorship from similar local businesses if you can.

Fourth was promoting and advertising through local radio, newspaper and on social media. And finally the actual day itself when people actually came and the Fun Palace just blossomed and flourished. That’s the icing on the cake when everything comes together and there is a real buzz. 

Going into year two in October 2022, it was still a challenge because I still had to assemble the makers. One person dropped out at the last minute on the day but these things happen and it wasn’t the end of the world, as there were other activities planned.

There’s been a definite progression, because it was easier to say to people ‘Look, I did it last year, I know what I’m doing… ‘ and I was able to get more people involved and additional funding.

This year felt like it was building up more connections with local groups and people. I was able to book this year’s Council venue in conjunction with the local food back charity Leighton Linslade Helpers. A local community cafe, Freddie and Friends, offered to open their cafe especially on the day of the event – and made money! Other groups such as Barrel Organ and the local Timebank charity and local Woodcraft Group also supported on the day. 

I also had the idea of finding a local celebrity to open the Fun Palace. Rusty Goffe, the “Harry Potter” and “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” actor kindly agreed to attend as our guest of honour and was delighted when he accepted and officially open the event. I’d love to do this again next year, though I’m not sure who I’ll invite – there aren’t that many famous people in Leighton Buzzard!

Leighton Buzzard Fun Palace 2022

As it goes on, I realise that each year it’s going to be slightly different, and doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect. I love that sense of evolution and am looking forward to next year which will be my 3rd year of organising (and of course the 10th year nationally).

Another challenge has been thinking about how to reach out to the older generations and the teenagers, because a lot of families attend, but it’s about making an offer for them too. Next year I really want to be a bit more ambitious and think about how to get the children leading an activity. And maybe have our Fun Palace across two venues. 

Why do I love Fun Palaces? I love being a Fun Palaces Maker because its about happiness – making other people happy – that’s the bottom line, we all want some fun in life. It’s such a simple thing to do, and although it takes some organising, is always worth it. 

I also love that it brings intergenerational connections and gives all ages opportunity to try new activities. I love how Fun Palaces gives the power to bring out hidden untapped talents and genius (that often get lost in the busyness and hum-drum of adult everyday life). In the words of the theatre director Joan Littlewood: “I do really believe in the community. I really do believe in the genius in every person. And I’ve heard that greatness come out of them, that great thing which is in people“.”