This week in our series of articles about the winners of The Visitor Sunshine Awards 2017 – which recognise local heroes in our community – we visit The Exchange Creative Community, winners of our Community Award. MICHELLE BLADE reports
Community is at the heart of an arts hub in Morecambe’s West End which has won two awards this year.
The Exchange Creative Community on West Street has just celebrated its second anniversary and held an exhibition of work from people who have supportedthem over the first two years
The brainchild of Jo Bamb rough and Beki Melrose, The Exchange CIC was born out of an idea for something different for people to have a real lifetime experience and learn new craft and art skills.
Director Jo Bambrough said: “I’ve been a youth and community worker for years but it became more and more restricted. We wanted to do something but not bring a service, we wanted people to enjoy things how they want.”
After a Facebook appeal which provoked a lot of reaction and creative project ideas, The Exchange CIC was created.
Jo, 31, originally from Lancaster but now living in Morecambe, said: “We wanted somewhere to show what people were creating - people were making things but not showing them off. That’s how we set up our gift shop and gallery. We have built up amazing relationships with people in the area, a really diverse set of peoplefrom all walks of life.
“On a typical day we meet an age bracket of between eight or nine up to 80-years-old. People rock up sometimes at 8am in the morning. We are all about it being creative, giving people the opportunity to see something and try something. It’s also a really good way to relax and you don’t need any talent. What is ace about The Exchange is how people just get on, it doesn’t matter who comes in, they have really nice discussions. People come in for a tea and a cake and take part in workshops.”
In May last yearThe Exchange extended across the terrace on West Streetand have now launched a ‘Steeple for the People’ fundraising campaign to buy Trinity Methodist Church (opposite) the current gallery and workshop space) with a view to developing a community arts studio and enterprise hub, project space, community cafe, gallery, gift shop and art supplies shop in there. The Exchange need to raise £200,000 to buy the property.
Jo said: “More space would be really good, we would need a bigger venue wherever it is. This is the most inspiring proposal to go for and I hope it inspires other people. “
The Exchange won two awards this year, the Community Award in The Visitor Sunshine awards and a national Epic Award from Voluntary Arts England.
Jo said: “We were the runners-up in the whole of Englandfor the Epic awardThe Sunshine award is kind of more important because the public voted for us - that is amazing, there are no two ways about it.
“It gives you a spurt of energy in the right direction when something like that happens. It means we are doing right and that is pretty humbling. “
Within a month of purchasing Trinity Methodist Church, The Exchange wants to open the old school rooms at the rear of the property to public use and begin developing a self sustainable creative community space for years to come.
Buying the church will enable them to offer a welcoming and inclusive venue. This will see the start of an alcohol free community space that is open on evenings and weekends for the enjoyment of people of all ages and backgrounds, offering a range of workshops, events and other opportunities that seek to build strong possibilities and relationships locally.
Jo said: “We need £200,000 to buy the property, so this is our current target and clear priority.
“We already have a lot of support from local residents and creatives but we need as many of you as possible to get involved to make this happen.
“If you’d like to help please email firstname.lastname@example.org or pop into see us at The Exchange.”
For more information about The Exchange CIC or to get involved visit www.theexchangecic.co.uk, or search for ExchangeCIC on Facebook or Twitter.