Cooking up Change: The Stove Network, Dumfries

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The Stove is an artist led resource for the community – focussing on helping active engagement and creative, future thinking of the development of Dumfries.  In this series of articles we are looking at the theme of community. In this piece we talk to Katharine Wheeler, part of the Curatorial Team of the Stove Network in Dumfries.

The Stove is a place to meet and talk for those who might not regularly engage in the arts and a means to develop projects and build opportunities with the creative sector and connect to the importance of the artists role in policy making and development. We do this through regular activity and events in collaborative working, regionally, nationally and we also now developed international aspects of that.

How did the process begin?

Stove started about six years ago as a need for connection with the arts in Dumfries and Galloway and the role of the artist as a key contributor to a healthy society through creative perspective. Dumfries is a town that lost its market, with many associated socio-economical challenges, so this was a way to help people imagine a different future by providing meaningful activity and innovative perspective on key issues that face Dumfries and a platform to take an active role in that change.

Who was involved in making the project and what community involvement was there?

We have just become a Community Development Trust. The Stove IS part of the Community…the community is not something separate from The Stove – our organisational structure is based on collective decision-making that is a two-way conversation using our projects as a tool for that. We have regular monthly activities that act as a means to connect with local residents. The variety within our approach allows us to interact with individuals, organisations and cultural partners in a way that makes the most of what each of us can bring.

How was funding raised?

We are a registered charity by guarantee. Some of our main support came from Dumfries and Galloway Council particularly at the beginning through community development funding and lease on our building. What’s most difficult is funding to our core. Recent funding raised through Networks of Social Change goes straight to our core so that’s incredibly helpful as is our Regularly Funded Organisation status with Creative Scotland. We currently have quite a variety of funding streams and that is constantly in flux dependent on projects and partnership work.

What was your biggest lesson learnt?

Simplicity of engagement – as the core of our ethos is about engaged practice we use things that people feel connected to like food and music and we have regular activities that makes it an easy step to come in and engage with a project – we use the arts as a tool for active change that we can all be a part of. The importance of flexibility – having a strong foundation that can, in terms of project co-ordination or project planning, be an inspirational starting point and can take full advantage of what’s brought to it by individuals, organisation and collaborative partners. We all have something to offer.

I should also say try not to do too much. We are constantly having to strip back, to make what we have quality over quantity.

What advice would you give people who wished to become active in changing a place?

Focus on the now – if you are too busy focusing on the next step you miss the engagement, the participation. Design projects to be flexible enough so you really are able to listen and make it visible so that people can see their interaction as actually having an impact – this allows the engagement to truly lead the development and the direction of the project.

What are the plans for the future?

One of our main focuses is bringing people back into the town centre and using unused space in a meaningful and sustainable way. We are trying to enter international conversation, to have collaborative projects that bring people to work with local people that provide really interesting activities. This supports the work in a way that allows us to continue at a greater depth. Our focus for the future – to embed the “artist” role as a fundamental part of development.

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