The Second Decade: Changes at Fun Palaces

It’s all change at Fun Palaces as we move into our next 10 years, and we announce that Co-Directors Kirsty Lothian and Makala Cheung are leaving Fun Palaces. Kirsty and Makala took on their Co-directorship in early 2021, and will be leaving three years later, Kirsty in January and Makala in April. They lead the organisation out of the pandemic, and step away as we move into Fun Palaces’ second decade.

2024 is a very different year to 2014 when Fun Palaces as an organisation started. While cultural policy has moved towards valuing everyone’s creativity, the economic climate is pushing in the opposite direction. In the UK there are over 1000 more foodbanks today than there were in 2014, and over 400 fewer libraries. Gradually more and more councils are withdrawing their entire culture funding. There is a job here for Fun Palaces. It still needs saying – EVERYONE’S creativity is valuable, to be celebrated and honoured. We can’t afford to leave ANYONE out.

So what happens next? We are delighted that producer Amie Taylor is holding the reins as Interim Director. She came to Fun Palaces as a Maker, creating her own Fun Palace in her community, and it’s right that Fun Palaces should be led by a Maker. Therefore, as we recruit for a new Director, we are recruiting from Makers, from the people already at the heart of Fun Palaces, in an internal recruitment open to people who have been involved in making Fun Palaces in their own communities.

Kirsty writes:

“Being a part of Fun Palaces has been a huge privilege for me. I was lucky enough to be in the room from the very first conversation (not in the conversation – I was the person running around with a clipboard making sure the event went well), and to join the team the very moment there was one. The first piece of paid work I did after the birth of my first child was also my first piece of paid work on Fun Palaces. Each of our major funding grants coincided with the birth of another child. And as my friends and fellow new mothers hit the glass ceilings of motherhood, having to radically scale back ambitions if they wanted to work part time, to flex round work and family, I found myself at the heart of a team rebuilding the cultural sector to be fairer and more inclusive, starting from how we organised ourselves, working part time and flexibly as a given, juggling, supporting each other and following our noses. I had the chance to grow and shape my role, learn new things I loved doing, and learn from the example of the thousands of Makers who showed us every year how it is done. Cultural democracy in action, thousands of people stepping up and just doing it, creating their own Fun Palaces and showing just how incredibly, unendingly brilliant people are.

Joan Littlewood, whose idea it all was in the first place, back in the sixties said “I really do believe in the genius in everyone” and I do too. Fun Palaces demonstrates it in spades. 

When Stella and Sarah-Jane, Fun Palaces’ founding Co-Directors, moved on in 2021 I stepped up as Co-Director and recruited Makala Cheung to Co-Direct with me. We chose each other, each bringing a different background, connections and skillsets, and have learned so much together over the last three years. Now it’s time for us to move on, and leave space for the next Fun Palaces Director to take up the baton.

When Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price dreamed up the idea of a Fun Palace in the 60s, Price stipulated that whatever they built would have to be torn down after 10 years, to make way for something new. A Fun Palace which served us in 1961 would be useless in 1971, we would have to build a new one. Our Fun Palaces are built new every single year, with communities taking over spaces to change them into temporary palaces for everyone, where everyone’s brilliance and creativity is celebrated, in the way that community sees fit now, Fun Palaces for today. I’m excited for what the future has in store.”

Makala shares her reasons for moving on:

“When I first started volunteering teaching DIY dance and performance to kids in my local community centre, I never could have imagined where it might lead me! Fast forward a fair few years and I’d managed to bring in a Creative Civic Change grant to run creative projects there and grow a team offering traineeships to the local community. We were co-creating our own cultural activities in the centre and making visible change on the street, with and by and for the community that was ours. The next thing I know I’m sent a job ad for a national role – Fun Palaces Co-Director, with an encouraging email to apply, saying it was right up my street! I never imagined in a million years I’d get it! 

3 years in and it’s been a journey. Myself and Kirsty grew a new team from (nearly) scratch during and after the pandemic, and began to co-develop new ways of working and new ways of reaching people with a new gang of like minded people from across the UK. I’ve learned so much, and that I can do more than I realised, and that’s helped me dream even bigger going forward; for what I can imagine, drive forward and how I’d like to see and be the change in the world.

I step away to focus on other work that’s always been there but growing, and for some work-life balance, but also especially because stepping away does the thing I really believe in; making space for the next creators and the next leaders. I step away knowing someone from within our Fun Palace community will have the opportunity to progress their career and try out the things they can imagine, and most importantly to have a Fun Palaces team led by the community it serves (those on the ground making great stuff happen wherever their actual neighbourhood may be).

My next big projects include; a multi million Levelling Up project to develop our Filwood Community Centre as a community led culture (and wellbeing) hub for our side of the city; plus writing and recording a new album (as artist KALA CHNG) with a theme of becoming our best selves and spreading peace love and joy, and probably some kind of creative and wellbeing activities that also grows the connections between us all, because that’s what life is really all about!”