The friendly website of Allendale Forge Studios really does convince new browsers that this is a very welcoming place. I’m speaking with Zoë Bell, who runs the Forge Café as her own business, and is also one of the five directors of this social enterprise, built on a Community Interest Corporation structure.
She’s bubbling over with enthusiasm to express the group’s appreciation of its core group of some 25 volunteers who keep the place running. In a model that’s not dissimilar to that adopted by other local enterprises, either charitable or not-for-profit, the Forge Studios personnel, including the directors, are all involved in a purely voluntary capacity, except for those doing regular shifts of specific jobs like cleaners and caretakers.
Without a paid project manager, then, the volunteer directors each have a role in running the social enterprise, ranging from taking care of the tenants (now called ‘licencees’) through managing the financial affairs and keeping the books, or watching over the premises on a day-to-day basis.
So Zoë tells me that all 12 studios are now occupied in various formats, whether as workshop spaces, as meeting rooms, or as physical studios/premises for artists and organisations. Allen Valleys Physiotherapy and the Podiatry Clinic are joined by Natural Ability, for example, interspersed between artists like Carol Davison, Sarah Dalton (and John Scrowston), Laura Mary.
The studios downstairs are hung with artworks placed on a commission basis by network artists, and in the ‘Shop’ area of the premises, managed by Sarah Blackett-Ord, artists contribute several days a month to run the till, as payment for their own display units there. Additionally, of course, the Café brings visitors in to look around and rest a while in between their country-side walks. Such a variety of diversification in terms of revenue is salutary, as well as necessary, of course, to help defray the large loan that paid for the building construction a decade or so ago.
Sometimes on a sunny day in Allendale, the al fresco tables and chairs nicely arranged in front of the studios offer a continental feel to the square, which visitors really seem to appreciate after making their way up the steep Peth.
Zoë is also keen to describe the new activities the group is hoping to help develop within its meeting room/workshop space, expanding on the Creative Writing workshop, for example, involving the Youth Project in hands-on experiences, and generally cultivating a vibrant and enthusiastic approach to the arts, and crafts of the region. You simply can’t downplay the importance of enthusiasm in inculcating a sense of real support for the arts.
I didn’t tell Zoé this, but I’ve been in the downstairs gallery myself, hung on the wall as part of local photographer Colin Potsig‘s exhibition, and then taken up as an artistic project by Carol Davison — I’m sure I could benefit from a lot of carefully placed filters and astute brush-work, but even ‘warts and all’ it’s definitely a strange sensation to be part of the art, though fortunately that’s a privilege shared by lots of local folks!
And as the group develops, forging steadily ahead, volunteers are still very much needed and appreciated!
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in helping out at the Forge. There are a range of skills needed or just general help!