SchQuall Annual Article

We were delighted to have been invited to submit an article about our move, for inclusion in the most-excellent Annual from SchNews and Squall. Schnews published their 300th weekly edition on April 6th. The presses will soon be rolling for their 6th Annual roundup of news, arcticles, actions, reportage, contacts, cartoons and much more.

To Order Your Copy check out schnews or order one from us!


THE GREAT ESCAPE

dateline:24 March 2001

Well, finally 16 years’ worth of accumulated junk (and some useful stuff as well, of course) has been sorted and shifted. We’re all rather tired here in Nottingham after last weeks manic moving out from the Rainbow Centre.

The centre was established 16 years ago as a peace centre by CND and Friends of the Earth activists in Nottingham. It was much smaller then but has expanded over the years to accomodate a wide diversity of groups in the Nottingham area, necessitating also its physical growth as it spread ever further along a row of terraces on the Mansfield Road.

Scores of volunteers must have come and gone over the years, building the centre into what it was up until last week. Of course there’s the dedicated few who have stayed with it through thick and thin, providing some continuity as the place metamorphosed its way through the ages. In the end, the Rainbow Centre was home to the Circle A Cafe, a library and information room, office and internet resource centre, alternative energy project office and Vegetarian Society office, as well as providing a base for absolutely loads of other campaigns and groups working for animal and human rights and environmental, ecological and social change. It was also home to Veggies, the vegan catering campaign (whom many will know well as they seem to turn up everywhere, particularly where you least expect and most need a burger/pasty/cake/cup of tea), and a few residents as well thrown into the mix.

A funny kind of building, it was affectionately known as a "rabbit warren" with its illogical scheme of stairways and doors and its uneven floors. It was rather run-down and dilapidated as well and for some reason the landlord just didn’t seem to care! Basically the centre had reached a point where it was under-used and needed an injection of new life and energy, a funky new image and decor more reflective of the exciting possibilities and potential lurking beneath a drab facade. So we had decided to just get on with it and do the place up, regardless of the landlord, and started doing some fundraising to this end.

A flash of inspiration (and constant nagging from one of our number about a fantastic closed down social club nearby) and the seed of thought was sown. Why not buy our own building? Why pay extortionate amounts of rent to some landlord? And why spend loads of dosh on doing his building up for him? Erm - why didn’t we think of this years ago?! So we went and looked around the old Ukrainian Centre in Forest Fields, an inner city area where many of the Rainbow’s volunteers already live anyway. We started to get excited - the little stage in the corner with its delightful spangly cabaret backdrop, the possibility of our very own social club - with beer on tap! Wow, it was all too much. It seemed to make sense, maybe it was time the Rainbow Centre moved on and changed once again into something different. The idea of a more community - based centre appealed to us, and a social venue would open up loads more possibilities. A lot of energy and ideas were flying about.

£110,000 though. Could we really raise that much money? Someone pointed out that it would mean we’d have to have meetings EVERY week! Really? Do you think so? Oh - alright then. So, we decided to go for it. Everyone had to acknowledge what it was we’d be taking on and of course everyone promised to do their share of the hard work (as they always do at the start of these things!!) Even so, I don’t think we fully realised just what we were letting ourselves in for.

52 or so weekly meetings, lots of fundraising, benefit gigs and a few crises later, and we’re almost there. and hopefully, by the time this goes to print we will be there! We just have to fulfill a few conditions and we can get the mortgage released. The building society are a little bewildered, I think, they said they’ve never really come across anything like us before. But we won them over with our promising business plan (can you really go wrong selling beer?) and they’re gonna give us a go. There’s a lot of buraucracy and complicated stuff and regulations and rules and permissions to get and stuff like that involved in buying a building and setting up a new centre, and that’s not necessarily what we do best, but we’re certainly getting there. We’ve made some mistakes and we’ve learnt a lot along the way. An awful lot.

People have worked really hard to get this project off the ground, and there’s been lots of generosity in helping us out financially, in no small part due to Veggies calling in favours from the hundreds of groups they’ve helped out with donations themselves over the years. We’ve discovered lots of hidden costs and there’ve been many other hitches besides, and I’m sure it ain’t over yet. There’s still work to be done on the building before we’ll be able to open up, and we’ve yet to go before the magistrate and convince them that we’re worthy of a licence.

The way that we have worked is by forming a number of different sub-groups, each responsible for a different aspect of the new centre. There’s the bar group, the cafe group, planning group, library group, computers group and fundraising group, and so people have got involved in the area they’re most interested, and possibly (if you’re lucky) have most expertise in. This also means that you’re likely to find yourself in more than the one meeting per week (agghhh!!) [but the cafe group’s meetings, which is one of the groups I’m in, have been pretty great and have mainly consisted of getting together and testing out recipe ideas on one another - mmm!]

Once we do open, then, (fingers crossed) the centre will operate as a private members’ social club on some evenings, with a vegan cafe during the day, and a library and other resources, including the usual office stuff and internet access available. We want to turn some of the huge forecourt into an urban permaculture garden project (smash that concrete up!) and eventually we hope to renovate the outbuildings that are there to make more offices and some workshop space. Veggies are coming too, and we’re going to keep them in the cellar (where they belong), and the first floor of the bulding will be residential, hopefully becoming a housing co-op eventually.

But all this is only the beginning - we really want to see the place grow as people bring their energy and ideas into it - so we’ve tried to keep it as flexible as possible for people to use it for what they think is important in the area and what it really needs. A really important aspect for those of us who are working to set it up is that it should bring new people in and be an important resource for the local community as well as the campaigns and groups traditionally associated with the Rainbow Centre. Loads of people in the area are really excited about it and already have plans and ideas, but that’s not to say that there haven’t been concerns - particularly regarding the bar. We held a public meeting a couple of weeks ago which gave everyone chance to talk about the issues and we’re all working on working together so everyone’s happy. I think the neighbours were a little sceptical at first about our commitment to following up our talk of ‘consensus decisions’, compromise, and to really listen to what people need (maybe they’ve been to too many council and corporate held public meetings). Indeed, there are too many empty promises made in this world and if people like us can’t follow up with actions, what hope is there? So, things are moving on there and I think there’s a little more faith. So, it should be good.

I guess it’s the end of an era. After all the moving out was done, we had a little farewell party at the Rainbow Centre, which finished up in true Rainbow style. After much beer, homemade wine and a beautiful acoustic music session in the cave beneath the cellar (there really is one - it’s great!), the last remaining (and rather stubborn) residents at the place finally decided they were ready to move out! Leaving it a little late, I know. Everyone had been so busy and so distracted with the business of clearing the rest of the centre out all week that we’d almost forgotten about them. There was some panic as we realised that the keys to an empty building had to be handed over the following morning or else we would be liable to be sued. So, it’s 2am, everyone’s completely slaughtered and the party turns into a house-moving brigade! The revellers took to the task of throwing around pieces of furniture, falling down the stairs with boxes and filling bin bags in the lariest manner possible. There was even an interlude of a drunken game of street football, and our friends the police stopped by a couple of times to ask what was going on, but went away apparently satisfied to be told by a drunken rabble at 3 in the morning that we were ‘just moving out’. Maybe they’re just glad to see us go. It was all rather manic but by 6am we were moved out, the keys were collected and we were ready to drop. It was definitely a party to remember and of course, we do all love a crisis really! It just wouldn’t have been a proper Rainbow do without one. So I guess that’s the end of that chapter. And a new one is about to unfold, with all of it’s own hair-brained schemes, dreams and crises.

The Sumac Centre - Our New Home So if anyone else is thinking of embarking on a similar project, then think again (just kidding!) No, but really, it’s been hard work but loads of good fun and if anyone thinks they’re up for it, we’re up for dishing out advice. What with all our newly aquired wealth of experience and learning, we just might be able to help others avoid some of the pitfalls and benefit from what we learnt from the mistakes we made.

And if anyone out there has any skills we might find useful in doing the place up, particularly building, electrical, plumbing skills etc., and you’re up for donating a few days of your time (or exchanging it for beer!) then we’d be delighted to hear from you. We also want people to get involved once the place is up and running, and we even need a couple more residents in the place, so likewise, get in touch - phone 0845 458 9595 or email: sumac@veggies.org.uk

One final thing - you may have noticed the lack of reference to the new centre’s name - that’s because we haven’t come up with one yet, or at least the arguments continue unresolved. We don’t want to be called the Rainbow centre again - that’s one of the bonuses of starting over. So, any bright ideas on that score, we’d love to hear them...

Alright, see you there, come and have a drink with us once we’re open!


Sumac Centre, 245 Gladstone Street, Nottingham NG7 6HX

New Phone: 0845 458 9595



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