Finding a Creative Community When You Move to a New Area
“So, why did you move to Woolwich? Do you have family there?”
I have been asked this question more times than I can count by slightly bemused friends and acquaintances. No one seemed to have heard of this corner of South East London, and even people who live here imagine I must have come due to family ties. In truth, I didn’t know anyone here. I moved two years ago and had to make friends and find a creative network from scratch. At the same time, I’d also started my digital fabric printing studio, and so was desperate to meet people I could talk to about design, the difficulties of trying to be creative and earn a living, or just someone to encourage me to make time to sit and draw.
Finding An Online Community
I started by googling, thinking that in this day and age almost every event or organisation has a website. Unfortunately, while that may be the case in central London or creative hotspots, there didn’t seem to be too much where I was. I had to start being smarter about my searches (‘creative community Woolwich’ not generating many useful results), and by using town name hashtags in Twitter I was able to stumble upon a number of blogs and local events.
The great thing about moving to an area that doesn’t have a large well known creative community is that anyone there really wants more people to be involved. After firing off a few emails and following a few accounts, suddenly I was having coffee with people running events at the local college, I was invited to run a craft class at my town carnival, and I started to meet local people who wanted to build a community, rather than just feeling like I was tagging on to something that already existed.
Throughout all of this, I was also discovering the importance of my online creative community. As I didn’t have anyone local, for several months I relied on the amazing creative women I’ve never met but who inspire and support me through social media. Simply following, commenting, and emailing people who inspire you is such an easy and effective way to build your own personal community who are there for you no matter where you live.
Talking To People In Real Life
Pretty soon I realised I needed to stop hiding behind my computer and go into town to see what was really going on. I went to a local cafe and had a conversation with the owner about textiles and my business, and she revealed she runs a weekly craft club which I started going to - something I would never have found out from looking at the cafe’s website. I started reading the posters on community boards in supermarkets and the library, and went to craft markets, free art classes, and meetups for local entrepreneurs.
Wherever I went I tried to make an effort to talk to people and tell them about my business and my skills (not always easy for someone who is much more comfortable staying at home and watching the telly than networking and self promoting!) Sometimes it was quite draining, and honestly sometimes I would skulk away without talking to anyone, or even not go if it was raining/I was tired/I didn’t know what to wear. But every time I went, I came home having learnt more about my new town, or with an idea for a new design, or best of all, a plan that had been excitedly hatched as I met someone new to collaborate with.
If you’re an introvert, it can be incredibly daunting to think about going up to a stranger and promoting yourself. And I will admit that it does take practice, and will probably never feel completely natural. I found that being genuinely interested in someone else’s work and asking questions, will naturally lead them to asking about you, so it feel much more like a conversation. Also consider about what you’re offering them - if you just want them to buy some of your products then you might come across as pushy. But if you want to collaborate, find out more about their practice, or you can help them with an issue they are facing, then people won’t feel like you’re just trying to sell to them.
Create Your Own Community
I love the website Meetup, and for the first year, I regularly checked it hoping that someone would decide to run one of the amazing sounding workshops in Central/East London in my town. In particular, I decided I really want to go to an art club, where I would have a weekly session to go and sit with other creatives and ‘make’ myself draw, as it always ends up at the bottom of my to-do list when I try to draw on my own.
Finally, I realised that I couldn’t just wait for someone else to do what I wanted. If I wanted to go to a Woolwich art club, then I needed to set it up myself. This was another daunting idea - what if no one comes? Or they do come and they think it’s rubbish?
A new arts venue had recently opened in town, so I approached them to see if they would be interested in hosting the meetup, and if it was an idea they thought people they worked with would be interested in. Luckily they loved the idea, and agreed to host and promote the weekly club, and Grown Up Art Club was born. I’ve now been running the club for just over a month, and as well as giving me more time to draw and design, I have made my own creative community. The feedback has been brilliant, and everyone has commented that it has been great to meet people in a casual environment with no agenda other than to be creative.
So if you can’t find what you want in your community, why not try and organise your own event, and see how many other people were just waiting for someone else to organise it? If that still sounds too scary then just make the time to talk to people in real life, and go out and visit your community, you might be as surprised as I was about how much is going on that isn’t advertised online!
Author: Beki Gowing
Did you enjoy Beki's article? Hear more from this creative businesswoman in her recent fabulous interview