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I have been attending some of the Konvertible workshops in Bedford. Konvertible is a project led by artist Lisa Cheung and funded by the Arts Council and Bedford Creative Arts. The aim is to have local people create goods from materials sourced locally (for the main part), to be sold via a purpose-built mobile kiosk to local people. People take part for free, the materials are supplied and all profits go back into the project enabling more workshops to be held. I’ve been to two workshops, and babysitter willing, will attend my third tonight.

I have been quite moved by my experience, and unexpectedly so. I knew I wanted to take part, I absolutely love to take part in art projects, so it is no surprise that I have been enjoying myself. But I have been moved in other ways.

I am famously anti-social. I don’t mean to be. But in any social gathering I am usually closest to the door and often make an early exit. I also, often don’t make it through the door in the first place. My good intentions often get me to the place, but fail at the final push. I don’t know why this is. I am rubbish at small talk, having been born without the internal censor that tells me when to speak and when to keep my trap shut I often find that when I do talk I say too much, too fast, and it is often easier to avoid social gatherings entirely. Social spaces with strangers are not always easy for me.

Konvertible has felt different. I attend the easy-making workshops. The photos above have been provided by the good folks at Bedford Creative Arts. There is a good mix of people, mainly women, but a sprinkling of men, and an age range that probably goes from mid- twenties to early seventies. The difference is in the making. There is a wide choice of things to get involved in and Lisa presents a range of options to participants giving a gentle steer to things she would like us to tackle or finish. The woodworkers work downstairs, sewers huddle around a machine or the main table, and the ceramic decorators huddle together. I am a ceramic decorator. I use transfers and decorate second hand or plain mugs and bowls. It is easy and quick and gets great results. I have noticed how quickly things get serious. Now, lets not fool ourselves, the skill level required for putting transfers onto mugs is around that of a 5 year old, the process being exactly the same as needed for the temporary tattoos that used to come in bubblegum wrappers… but after the initial chit chat people begin to focus on their projects with the concentration of a fine artisan. It becomes important and the room gets quiet.

It is a non-threatening place. Another Lisa, Lisa Tilley of uoldbag fabulousness makes tea (always one too many) and there is a friendly kind of feeling to the whole affair. Anyone who comes becomes part of it. I was caught off-guard when a young man came upstairs looking for ‘Kate’ because he wanted to do ceramics. That must be one of the organisers, I said, I’m not sure of everyone’s name yet, but I can show you how to do it if you want… It took a while to dawn on me that Lisa had sent him up to me, because I did know enough to share the skill. He was looking for Kayte.

Lisa has asked us to supply our own drawings so that she can make new transfers with our own images. The instructions were to keep it simple and use pencil. The more basic the picture, the more imperfect, the better the outcome. You see, Konvertible, is about imperfections, it is about creating a little space around goods for us to add our mark to them, to transform factory made goods into something else, something more fun, more characterful, more human. It is a tiny counter current against the mass produced. We are becoming creators as well as consumers. We do not have to accept products as they are, we can add our mark, adapt, and even show a willful disrespect for the intended outcome for the product (if you have ever seen a bag knitted from shirts then you will understand).

We are going to sell our goods. Our simple work adds value that can be charged for.

It made me think about those empty shops spreading through my town. It opened up my thinking. We don’t need to court multi-nationals, or chain stores to breath life into our ailing towns. We need to get access, create goods or services, and open them up. I have thought about winter concerts – an empty shop, deck chairs, blankets, flasks of tea and a busker or two. I’d pay a few bob for that.

So it made me feel part of something, it made me feel that I my efforts are valuable, and that I could, somehow, maybe, make some kind of a difference to my hometown. Pretty good huh?

The Konvertible Kiosk hits Bedford Market on the 5th November. I’m going to bake some gingerbread. See you there.

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