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Church land set for transformation by budding urban designers

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Director Mark Drury outside the Spud headquarters in Sway
Director Mark Drury outside the Spud headquarters in Sway

A SWAY-based arts and education charity which involves young people in ambitious urban design projects is set to embark on transforming an area outside St Thomas’s Church in Lymington.

Since taking responsibility for the former ArtSway building in Sway last year, SPUD has turned it into a modern, creative hub featuring community workshop space, artist studios, florist, gallery and desks for creative businesses.

The charity, which has received international recognition for its ground-breaking design projects including Exbury Egg and The Observatory, recently completed a project which enabled a group of youngsters to conceive and design a new cycling café in Winchester.

Spud director Mark Drury explained: “The Handlebar Café is a project we started six years ago with our SPUD Youth group. The teenagers wanted to design a cycle café, so they went and found the location.

"They came up with the deigns, made the models, went to the planning meetings, presented to city council for cabinet meetings, right through to helping with fundraising.”

The Handlebar Cafe in Winchester was designed by youngsters from Spud Youth (Photo: Julia Conway)
The Handlebar Cafe in Winchester was designed by youngsters from Spud Youth (Photo: Julia Conway)

Building work started in January, and the café, on Garnier Road at the foot of St Catherine’s Hill, was officially opened in September. It was designed to give the impression of railway carriages approaching a bridge.

The café is now being run as a community interest company – and part of the profits are used to support the SPUD charity.

Mark explained: “As well as bringing huge benefits for their communities, projects like the Handlebar Café are also providing a sustainable income for us as a charity so we can become less reliant on grants.”

“The aim is that we can generate our own income to do the things we wanted as a charity so we can develop our own projects and ideas and our own programmes without constantly having to look for grants from the Lottery fund.”

The SPUD youth group which meets weekly in term time, is completely funded by the charity, so it is free to attend for local young people who have an interest in architecture or urban design.

Other past projects include the transformation of the Buckland Rings site at Lymington with sculptures, benches, interpretation boards and the creation of a self-guided walk.

Spud's project at Buckland Rings in Lymington
Spud's project at Buckland Rings in Lymington

Mark, who was head of art at Priestlands School prior to launching SPUD six years ago, said: “We have lots of ideas and sometimes they don’t progress beyond being ideas – but sometimes we take them forward to become real projects.

“For our young people to be able to visit Buckland Rings and be able to say “I did that, I made that difference” is incredible feeling for them.

The next SPUD Youth project will focus on re-landscaping an area in front of St Thomas Church in Lymington.

SPUD is also currently embarking on a project called The Living Room which seeks to transform a disused brick water tower in the grounds of the Sway gallery into a safe and welcome space which can be used to deliver workshops and activities for people with dementia.

Mark said: “The project aims to offer a positive, safe and pleasant environment for participants to engage in creative activities facilitated by artists.”

“Through an artistic process we aim to energise, engage, stimulate, collaborate, socialise and offer a source of happiness and enjoyment to people with dementia.”

SPUD is looking for a commercial sponsor to help fund the construction of The Living Room. Mark said: “With everything we do we recognise that collaboration is the key. We very much have an open-door policy and we always welcome the public to come in and talk to us and find out what we are all about.”

In order to help fund its work as a charity, SPUD rents out desk spaces to artists, a film maker, an architect and a treehouse designer. There are a number of artist studios in a separate building at the rear of the site, and there are also spaces which are rented out for workshops and community activities.

SPUD works is also home to a florist run by former Sway postmistress Janet Kirk, who is described by Mark as “an incredible ambassador for the charity”.

“For many people the idea of visiting a contemporary gallery might be intimidating but because Janet is so well known she has done a brilliant job with helping us to connect with the village. People come to visit her shop and she often encourages them to take a look at exhibition gallery.

“Running the whole building at Sway is a challenge for us because buildings are expensive to run but we are definitely on a trajectory to becoming more and more sustainable and financially independent.”

As well as its youth programmes the charity is also set to expand its support for local arts graduates. Thanks to funding help from Utilita Energy Company, it is offering graduate arts students a free desk space at the SPUD Works gallery in Sway for 12 months. The programme is set to run for the next three years.

Mark explained: “Our new Launch Pad has created four new desk spaces for recent graduates from creative industries courses. Desks include support and mentoring, access to the creative hub, workshop and gallery and superfast broadband.”

“This is an incredible opportunity for graduates to develop their businesses, launch new ideas or test something out without the burden of large financial overheads.”

To find out more about SPUD visit www.spud.org.uk or call 01590 682260

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