Sunday, 3 October 2010

The BIG Big Society Tour - Pebbles Gallery, Allendale

Regular readers of the blog may remember last month I mentioned I was launching my 'BIG Big Society Tour' - I'm hoping to use it to visit the places and projects where the Big Society is already taking shape, meet the people behind the ideas and find out how we can build on those ideas.

The first stop on my tour was to meet Amanda and Val at the Pebbles Gallery in the heart of the Northumberland countryside in Allendale.

The Gallery is run by the Allendale Creative Artists Community Interest Company. The Gallery is currently home to 17 local businesses, each with their own space in the gallery selling anything they like, from Val's handmade handbags, to portraits and sculpture. The artists work almost as a cooperative, their 'rent' is covered by staffing the gallery for two days per week.

However the gallery is more than a rather unique and successful business model. It has also become a real community hub, attracting both visitors and local residents to their cafe and open days. Small food businesses rent the kitchen facilities and members of the Gallery on their voluntary rota days receive free refreshments throughout the day. The cafe also plays an important role in supporting local sustainability by buying local produce.

The whole company runs on a small income coming from the gallery. With some small seed funds for development, the Gallery and the Youth Project they provide free, have received no funding for salaries and project management and the Directors give their time and expertise freely.

Here we have a project in Allendale, a fairly isolated rural community in my constituency which has embraced the ideals of the Big Society and through this fantastic project is continuing to be a strong and vibrant community. So successful has the project been that the next step of their project is the quite amazing new Allendale Art & Media Visitors Center. The new building in the heart of the village, backed by the local community, will be a new home for art, small businesses, and youth projects in a stunning environment.

You can see the photos from my visit of the new build going up on flickr here

Keep an eye on the blog this week for my video interview with Amanda on the success of the project so far...