(Colab Dudley, photography Thom Bartley)
Catalysing creativity and developing skills to #RedesignDudley
Creative local social entrepreneurs are reimagining what Dudley can look like by inspiring and empowering residents.
“There’s a building that’s been rotting on the edge of town for a good 25 years”, according to Guy, founder of The UP-Cycle Shop, “A creative man would’ve thought, do we leave it to show that Dudley is actually rotten and broken? Or do we paint a massive Black Country mural on it that expresses what we’re famous for, our pride and the future?”
Guy is part of a number of creative social entrepreneurs supported by UnLtd who want to encourage and help Dudley’s residents to transform the borough.
Dudley is a place with history. The capital of the Black Country was at the heart of the industrial revolution with thriving manufacturing and mining industries. The borough of Dudley is now home to more than 300,000 people. A recent report by CoLab Dudley, a social lab working to give local people agency as leaders and designers of change, highlighted the effects of degeneration, civic apathy and disenfranchisement.
Meet some of the social entrepreneurs in Dudley
A community cafe and platform where local people can come together to test out new creative ideas. Based on the High Street in Dudley, they host creative sessions open to all and support anyone committed to making Dudley a better place to live.
A social regeneration project transforming an abandoned 19th century ironworks into a community and social hub with cafe, local-produce shop, garden and craft workshops. The project works with adults with learning disabilities who can transform the site while engaging in practical activities.
The UP-cycle Shop
Guy Holness set up The UP-cycle Shop to inspire people in Dudley. He uses waste materials to make creative and commissioned products which he sells to fund inspirational community projects in the local area from painting creative murals in town to reusing waste materials.
Everything Discover U do is about supporting people with disabilities to develop social, emotional, functional and employability skills. The team of people with disabilities at Discover U, as well as staff and volunteers, create handcrafted products for market.
Using money generated from selling upcycled products Guy has begun to turn Dudley town centre’s boarded up high street shops into something more inspiring.
“I can go out and spend a couple of hours just painting a wall, just making it look a little better. There’s five, six, seven pieces of art that used to be five ,six ,seven rotten abandoned shop fronts.”
Guy’s not alone in recognising the importance of creativity and curiosity. Along with CoLab Dudley, The UP-Cycle Shop is based at Gather CIC, a cafe founded by Stuart and Lorraine.
“The initial plan was to provide a space where we could help the local community and support people who wanted to make Dudley a nicer place.”, says Stuart.
Stuart and Lorraine recognised that there was a lot of negativity surrounding Dudley and that people felt disconnected from each other and the borough itself. Everything that Gather does encourages participation of local people.
Stuart explains: “[Gather’s] a community platform. So yes, our name’s on the lease, but it’s meant to be owned by the community. It’s a place where people can come to meet and develop their own communities.”
And it’s a growing community of locals with a whole host of ideas. Since opening in November 2016 Gather’s schedule of events has been almost non-stop. There are regular skill swap events, local art exhibitions and they hosted DoFest Dudley, where 300 people took part in various creative sessions.
The cafe itself was an abandoned bank on Dudley’s High Street. “No-one had been in here for eight years”, according to Lorraine, when they decided to transform it into a warm and welcoming place for the community.
It’s a familiar theme. Seven miles away in Stourbridge, Lloyd Stacey, is working with adults with learning disabilities or any other needs to regenerate Riverside House, a nineteenth-century ironworks into a community hub. Lloyd, a former carpenter with experience of working with people with learning disabilities, is ensuring that locals play a role in the transformation of the space. And that they benefit from the community gardens, cafe and woodland that are planned for the space.
Lloyd explains: “Practical, meaningful activities in small, social teams has huge benefits in terms of communications skills, teamworks and preparing for work. There’s a lot of positive mental health outcomes – reduction of anxiety, and loneliness and marginalisation.”
In nearby Wollaston, Discover U helps people with disabilities to develop emotional, functional, social and employability skills.
Discover U runs a tearoom for local residents and a workshop where its 38 clients use woodwork and craft skills to make products for sale at local markets and shops.
It provides an invaluable service to the borough. According to James Phillips, one of Discover U’s service users, “A lot of the other services that you get in the borough are quite basic in what they do. They’ve forgotten that everyone is an adult.”
“People take a little bit of a step away when people say disability, but these are the brightest, funniest, warmest people you’re ever going to meet. And they deserve the same chance that you and I have to get a job”, says co-founder, Steve.
“Community is at the heart of what we do”, according to Steve. The recently opened tearoom, renovated thanks to volunteer support from local firefighters, will be a place that demonstrates to residents and employers that, if given the chance, everyone who wants to work, can work.
Unltd’s support has helped these social entrepreneurs to fulfill their passions and make their local areas a better place to live and work in.
For Steve, it was UnLtd’s funding as well as their support that proved most valuable, “I can find volunteers, I can find community spirit, I can find the guys to attend, but finding the funding is a real challenge”.
The challenges that local people in Dudley are tackling are far from solved, but there’s a community of people transforming Dudley. And with the right support from residents, employers and local decision makers it can really take off.
“When we started working together as the Colab team to try and improve the bigger picture of Dudley”, says Guy from the UP Cycle Shop, “I just wanted to take control and try to make a change.”