An introduction to coFWD
Coworking Community & Participatory Space

coFWD is a self managed, independent community of people united by one common purpose – getting stuff done. Venture through the doors of our old bank building at the end of Rochester High Street and you’ll find an eclectic mix of individuals from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines. Together we’re building a community where people are encouraged to share and develop ideas, roll up their sleeves and get plans and projects off the ground. More information available at coFWD.org

[A short edit of the following was published in WOW Magazine in April 2012]

Kent is often referred to as the garden of England; for the past few years I’ve fondly referenced Medway as the compost heap. Sure it’s a bit rough around the edges but once you know where to look and who to look for, you’ll always find fertile soil to grow ideas, nurture communities, cultivate participation, and create truly sustainable value for everyone.

I prefer ‘doing stuff’ to writing about it (but I blog, occasionally). Back in 2009 I began a journey by challenging some of Medway’s authorities and the cultural landscape[i]. And I began exploring the soil and creative ecosystem[ii]. By 2011 some awesome people had found each other and a vision existed to create something disruptively better[iii]; through empowering ‘Personal Responsibility over Rights’ and a refocused importance to ‘Identify Passion and Redefine Creativity’.

coFWD (pronounced Co Forward) is a coworking community and participatory workspace, based at 161 (High Street, Rochester). The former three-storey bank building has become a bank of social-capital and community interest, a developmental and participatory place for a diverse community of people (amateur, pro-amateur, freelance and professional ‘problem solvers’, ‘doers’ and ‘social enterprisers’).

Creative insights and innovations often come in non-linear ways, through seeing connections and similarities between things we hadn’t noticed before. coFWD hopes to become an engine of such serendipity, to disrupt the traditional stereotypes of ‘creative industries’ and ‘creative practice’. Artists studios, media agencies, serviced office spaces and creative business hubs can be found elsewhere; at coFWD you’ll find overlapping circles of people whom might just create something much greater than any of them could create individually – to become more than the sum of their parts.

We moved into 161 on November 1st 2011, now only a few months in, the participatory space and its numerous rooms and environments have evolved considerably (painted, second-hand furnished and equipped with pro-bono exchange) but much is left untouched, waiting to be written and shaped. Our vision is open to anyone but we know it isn’t for everyone.

The book selection in 161’s ‘Library’ room is perhaps the most introspective clue about the diversity of the community and its overlapping circles and themes: Graphical Navigation Systems to Fundamental Techniques Of Serious Hacking, 101 DC Comics & Gig Posters to Introducing KANT, The Business Model Generation to The 1000 Journals Project, A Guide To Electronics to The Pedagogy Of The Oppressed, The Handbook Of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines to The Third Industrial Revolution, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to The Brainstorming Toolbox of Game Design, to name but a few.

If you have an incredible curiosity then it’s likely you’re a ‘Hacker’ of things (not to be confused with the malicious geek term ‘Cracker’). Whether you’re interested in how words shape, technology connects, culture forms or understanding develops; coFWD is an agent of change, rather than a guardian of tradition. coFWD and 161 are independent, shaped and run by people not organisations, but legally framed as and supported by ‘Creative Medway Community Interest Company’ (CiC).

Our community calendar currently lists contributions, sessions and activities including: ‘Dr Keevil’s Guide to Teaching Things and Stuff!’, ‘Monthly Coworking Jelly’, ‘Tuttle101’, ‘Lets Ruin Cinema’ and ‘Rochester Writers Retreat’, to name a few. If you’d like to know more or participate please do watch the film below and signup to our mailing-list at coFWD.org.

Proud to be part of
http://CreativePeoplePlace.info

Arts Council England today (9 August 2012) announced that a community consortium from Swale and Medway has been successful in applying for a commissioned grant from its Creative people and places programme – designed to empower communities to take the lead in shaping local arts provision.

Please do register your interest by visiting: http://CreativePeoplePlace.info

Swale and Medway is one of seven successful consortium applications across England that have been awarded a total of just under £16 million over three years, with Swale and Medway receiving £1,476,000.

The Creative people and places programme focuses on parts of the country where people’s involvement in the arts is significantly below the national average*.

Creative people and places takes a new approach by supporting communities and grass roots organisations to play a leading part in inspiring others to get involved with the arts.

The projects all employ innovative ideas for reaching new audiences. The Swale and Medway consortium comprises Swale Council for Voluntary Service and Volunteer Centre; Medway Council for Voluntary Service; Artlands North Kent; LV21; Kent Architecture Centre; Creek Creative Studios; FrancisKnight – project managers for Leysdown Rose-tinted ; and FellowCreative. The consortium will showcase and test new arts activities, support local people to develop their own creative ideas, help strengthen existing arts provision and celebrate what’s great about the arts. Three local authorities (Medway, Swale and Kent) will work with the consortium to develop the project. The consortium will be working with locally based arts and cultural partners to do this, including: Royal Opera House Bridge Organisation, South East Dance, and Kent County Council Libraries and Archives.

Carl Jeffrey, Founder of FellowCreative and a member of the Swale and Medway consortium, says: ‘We are thrilled to have the support of Arts Council England. This substantial investment will make a real difference to the communities of Swale and Medway. The long-term aim of our Creative People and Places vision is to enable a spirit of creative experimentation and the art of doing, together.

‘Initiated by an ever-developing network of small-scale, grass roots individuals and organisations, we hope that Swale and Medway become widely recognised as places where all forms of creativity can thrive; where communities directly benefit from the power of the arts to make positive changes in people’s lives; where new routes for engagement are opened up through testing out pioneering and experimental approaches.’

Sally Abbott, Regional Director, South East, Arts Council England, says: ‘We have a long history of working with artists and arts organisations in North Kent and we know that there is a real desire among people locally to get more involved in the arts and culture. We’re looking forward to seeing what ideas the community come up with to encourage more people to feel the benefit that taking part in the arts and culture can bring.’

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England said: ‘I’m excited by the possibilities of this programme and by the vision of the successful applicants.

‘All the projects have the potential to make a visible and lasting impact on the places where the work will happen and, very importantly, they all share the ambition to unite increased access with excellent art.

‘We’re looking forward to working with them to help them develop their ideas for creating and sharing great art for everyone – which is crucial to the vitality and long-term sustainability of the arts.’

The projects will be delivered by consortia and partners which include arts organisations, museums, libraries, local authorities and commercial organisations working in collaboration with the local community, grass roots organisations and the amateur sector.

The successful applicants will now receive a small percentage of their award in order to develop their plans. Receipt of the full award is dependent on the Arts Council approving each consortium’s full business plan. Round two of the programme will open to applications in September 2012.

The Creative people and places programme is one of a number of initiatives designed to help the Arts Council achieve its goal of more people experiencing and being inspired by the arts – as set out in Achieving great art for everyone, the Arts Council’s ten year strategic plan.

To contact the Consortium or to register your interest in the Swale and Medway project, please go to: http://CreativePeoplePlace.info

An Open Letter to Medway Council,
supporting The Deaf Cat, Rochester.

[Originally written on 11th April 2011. Today, directly submitted to Medway Council to support ‘change of use’ application Ref. MC/11/1478]

Dear Laura / Kevan [proprietors of The Deaf Cat]

Following the recent licensing issues and council interventions, I wish to make my feelings known on the subject of the Deaf Cat Coffee Bar – I hope this short note inspires you and your staff to stay motivated and positive in the face of the current hurdles, paperwork and autocracy.

In short, the Deaf Cat is much more than a Rochester coffee shop, it has become much greater than the sum of its parts and for the good of Rochester’s (and Medway’s) social ecosystem it is of paramount importance that this be recognised and supported by the council, not constrained.

I applaud what you have achieved in terms of a business, but more importantly I congratulate and thank you for the diverse community you have helped align, ignite and inspire. In a relatively short period of time you have achieved so much – well done! Through my ever-growing tuttle endeavours, community connections and public/council partnerships I will do what I can to help you build the necessary bridges with other creative groups, community initiatives, creative-freelancers/entrepreneurs and the local authorities.

From the standpoint of bureaucracy and autocracy (Eg. a quick glance over a piece of paper and a tick box aligned to a column marked ‘High Street Coffee Shop’) I understand how the Deaf Cat may appear at first to be a traditional High Street coffee house, but for those who care to look beyond the business name and brick building and its categorized business genre, a unique and thriving community of local catalysts can be found and will continue to grow. Sure the Deaf Cat serves good coffee but to most of the people who use it regularly the coffee is not the reason to frequent its welcoming space… its value cannot be realised in a cost-effective cuppa, its true value is in its community of active participants and true social-capital. Given Medway’s ‘Big Society’ agenda I can see no more valuable venture than The Deaf Cat.

What can be counted doesn’t always count. And from the standpoint of social capital, that which can’t be counted on paperwork or council forms, often counts.

Thank you. Positive thoughts,
Carl

Catalyst: http://fellow.ventures/tuttle101
Co-founder: http://coFWD.org