Holding onto community

Suddenly it’s October, and Fun Palaces weekend is here. Since its invention in 2014, the Fun Palaces idea has burst into thousands of gorgeous, diverse, open-hearted blooms. Each one is unique, shaped by its combination of people and place. Each one is a gift, of a community to a community, strengthening its bonds of acceptance and collective memory. The idea has always been simple. If you know something, especially if you know how to do, make, create something, why not share that knowledge with someone else? Most of us delight in talking about our enthusiasms, and most of us enjoy discovering something new. Watching someone practice their craft or expertise is fascinating, and trying your hand – whether at crochet, forensic science or breakdancing – is usually fun, even if only because you end up laughing at your beginner’s steps. The difference of Fun Palaces, what does make them fun instead of worthy, is that anyone can be the sharer because everyone is an expert in their own culture. Professionals are welcome, if they’re willing to muck in,  but they’re the least important part of Fun Palaces. The community groups – often expanding informally from two or three friends – are the indispensable element. It’s their energy, ideas and commitment, above all, perhaps, their love of the community they live in, that makes everything possible. And there are always enough people happy to share their love of orchids or the oud to make things fun.

So suddenly, it’s October, and Fun Palaces weekend is here. This has been a hard year, brutal even. Many people have lost loved ones, jobs, opportunities; confidence in the future. Most unkindly, the need to observe social distances has kept us apart, withholding even the comfort of a hug. Grief lurks round corners. We are braced for bad news. During lockdown, the small, part-time team who hold Fun Palaces together – by making connections, sharing ideas but mostly by being there, so that the whole enterprise is, somehow, all right, possible, safe – that small team had to reinvent an idea that exists to bring people together. They came up with Tiny Revolutions, a stream of shared ideas for things that could be done without putting anyone at risk, while still being in the physical world, independent of computers and the Internet. And after lockdown, they had also to work with the vast and growing community of Fun Palace makers to reinvent their idea so that it could survive in a time of family bubbles and the rule of six. So this year’s Fun Palaces map has two colours – red for events that will take place in person, yellow for online Fun Palaces. And, despite everything, 352 Fun Palaces will take place this weekend, not only across the UK, but in NorwayDenmarkFrancePortugalGreeceCambodia and New Zealand. There will be window decorating in Perth, chalk postcards and singing in Redcar, badges in Newcastle Emlyn and yoga in Enniskillen. And if you can’t get there, there are scores of online Fun Palaces: explore origamicodingartukulelemaths, or one of the countless other ideas listed on the Fun Palaces website

It is October, and the Fun Palaces makers open their doors and their hearts today. They’ve done it, against the odds, working from home and coping with their own family and personal difficulties – of course, they have done it. Why of course? Because ingenuity, interdependence and self-reliance have always fuelled Fun Palaces. No one decided to make this happen because everyone decided to make it happen. Good luck to everyone making a Fun Palace this weekend, good luck, and thank you.