Progress Report 2017/18 Financial Year

Like most charities we work to an April to March financial year - especially as we rely on funding from the Arts Council of Wales and others such as the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. This blog explains how we reported on the second year of the work funded by the latter.

Library closed for refurbishment

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation are based in London and support a wide range of work within the arts, children and young people, the environment and social change. The Foundation has provided £50,000 and is most interested in how we: (1) develop community resources such as the library pictured above; (2) increase community capacity to self-organise; and (3) reduce marginalisation within the community. This blog post also explains the external factors which influence our situation and some of the changes which we have made ourselves.

(1) External factors

Cuts to public service and re-organisations within Newport City Council continue to have an impact on Maindee.

The first example is the Council closing the toilets at the Triangle in spring 2017. Last month Maindee Unlimited got planning permission for proposals at the Triangle. We can now get a long-term lease on the land, but there is no funding to support ongoing costs.

In the second exmaple, the Council moved Flying Start baby clinic provision away from the library. This change has both reduced the numbers of people who use the building and the charity lost over £100/week in room hire revenue.

A third example is the Communities First programme ending. In its latter stages Communities First has focused on helping people to find work. Like Flying Start they have paid to hire space in the library. We now know the Council will continue to support employment services and hope that they will continue in the refurbished library.

In August 2017 the Arts Council of Wales [ACW] made staff redundancies, including the manager responsible for supporting Finding Maindee. Although ACW are still very supportive of the programme, we have less of the day-to-day advice and guidance.


(2) Internal changes

The Finding Maindee project has facilitated the steady development of Maindee Unlimited as a charity e.g. new trustees have joined and a reputation established beyond Newport.

The charity has never lost sight of being a volunteer-led organisation. For example, the library has been going for nearly 2 1/2 years as a volunteer-run space and the trustees get involved in instigating many new activities - such as Incredible Edible or the Christmas Market. We have accepted that some elements of the project have required specific skillsets than volunteers cannot easily provide; for example, in June 2017 we employed Sheena as administration officer on 3-days a week which frees up Aled and Fez to concentrate on the artistic and creative side of the project.  The staff are on PAYE and with pension contributions paid. As a volunteer John continues to fill many roles as fund raiser, organiser, motivator and much more.

In terms of the specfic work to the Library and the Triangle, there has still been a lot of work on design, community planning, media, procurement and more. The CAT2 funding bid [which failed in autumn 2016] would have provided both more money and also a specific project manager and business development post. Without these extra staff has Aled managed the architectural work and contract at the library and John leads on the same for the Triangle. These projects are disruptive and it is always hard to sustain the intensity and momentum.

Once the Finding Maindee programme finishes - either July or November 2018 - there will be no external finance coming into the charity. From this point we have to rely on what we can earn. In the financial year just gone [2017/18] the library generated just over £9,000 in space rental and from trading e.g. through printing and cafe. We hope that these figures can be increased through the refurbished space, albeit more income will have to come from private parties and room hire. A premises licence application will soon be submitted to Newport City Council with the hope for the library building will have a 150 person event capacity. The work to develop such community resources is detailed in the following paragraph.


(3) Working towards developing community resources

Finding Maindee has been developing one inside space [Maindee Library] and one outside space [Maindee Triangle] as community resources.

What has gone to plan? 

At the start of 2017 we advertised for creative practitioners to design and implement Mainde Library. From over 30 applicants we appointed George Lovesmith and Sarah Hollingworth. The latter two have a track record of collaboration with community organisations; also with artists and makers. From the same process we appointed Karsten and Berndt as architects and artists KHBT for the Triangle.

Since summer 2017 the main focus Maindee Library has been on functional infrastructure i.e. toilets, meeting room, kitchen, replacement windows and heating system. A total of £100,000 has been committed and work started will last between March and July 2018. The other part of George and Sarah's approach [see above] is collaborative production and playful arts. We starte on this through some on New Paths projects and the mobile cafe, but from April 2018 a team of makers and artists will work on the library’s main reading room.

What has not gone to plan? And how did we change?

In November 2017 we advertised for a building contractor for Maindee Library. We did not reach agreement with the original preferred contractor and immediately lost 2 months. After re-tendering for the library works in February 2018 we received a proposal from a Newport-based company So Exclusive. We had to remove the renewable heating system from the project and are now investing more money in collaborative work.  In total there is £100,000 being invested between the building works and a contract for new glazing and rooflight.

In spring 2017 Newport City Council ‘temporarily’ closed the toilets at the Triangle. Following further ‘consultation’ this facility is officially closed - alongside many others. In November 2017 we invited speakers from across the UK to debate public toilet provision. As such we can see a clear need for public toilets, but know that the chances of any public money helping to sustain the toilets are now next to zero.

At the end of March 2018 our proposals for the Triangle got planning permission following a 4 month process. The scheme includes a striking yellow design for an outside play area [see above] and a remodelled building which could include re-opened public toilets and a cafe. Although time is now very pressing, we now need to negotiate a lease with the Council and the work to tender for work to begin.

Perhaps most importantly the business case for the Triangle is still very challenging.


(4) Capacity to self organise

Maindee has many reasons to self organise: firstly funding was not secured for Green Fingers; secondly Welsh Government has closed down the Communities First programme which previously supported outreach programmes in Maindee; and thirdly Newport City Council have cut back further to include closing the local toilets. As such there is less funding available to this charity and a greater need for the services it provides.

What has gone to plan?

The group of Maindee Unlimited trustees and the volunteers have certainly responded well in the past year. For example, the charity now has a 25-year lease on the library and is running its first construction project. The volunteer-run library has been open for 2 ½ years and continues to be more popular. There is a group of volunteers who do guerilla gardening at 3 sites on Chepstow Road and the Maindee Festival has over 20 years of running community events.

In terms of skills and experience two library volunteers were on the five person panel who selected the architects for the library: the professionals have therefore always understood the dynamics of the operation. A Street Media film was made in July 2017 to show how the library project has developed.

Finding Maindee has been an important vehicle for locally-based artists and creatives to collaborate. Through 2017 we staged monthly New Paths Gatherings where artists presented their work to a wider group. One presenter Dafydd Williams did a brilliant project [see above] to capture the residents living near to the Maindee Triangle.

The New Paths fund has now closed and our gatherings focus instead more on crafting and making; thankfully there is still momentum behind this movement despite there being no funding associated with it.

What has not gone to plan? And how did we change?

Although the following example can be seen as things not going to plan, the architectural project has revealed been tensions between a volunteer-run library and the project team of architects and artists. In truth the Arts Council of Wales have been keen for all Ideas: People: Places to explore tensions. 

Our specific tensions centre of the library building as a movement of people versus the building as an architectural and design project. After 2 ½ years the library volunteers have an emotional connection to the space and individual motivations for giving time; they also sense that many people rely on its services. For the architects there are specific timescales and they have to deal with planning, building regulations, health and safety and factors such as procurement. Consequently it is hard for all parties to have the same view of the architectural refurbishment. 

To respond to the volunteers we are investing £50,000 - April to July 2018 - in a multidisciplinary team and designers and makers which support the volunteers' vision for the library’s main reading room, including an area for children and more. The creative team includes: product designer David Henshall; the Cardiff University student architecture project; artist Stephanie Roberts and designers/makers Ongl. Through flexibility and openness in planning and delivery we trust that the renovated library combines a friendly public-facing space with functional infrastructure.

The charity has also needed to find a balance between the business plan for the library [and the Triangle] with the role of volunteers keeping the space open. For example people from the Council and NHS tell us that like the friendly volunteers welcome but also want a clean and warm space to run their services. From this position the architects have focused their work on spaces behind the scenes e.g. toilets and meeting rooms - contract underway from March 2018.


(5) Marginalised communities

The subtleties of marginalised communities have been explored through Finding Maindee. Library volunteers have found that lots of people come to use computers and the Job Club support offered by the Council. There are also many families who have moved to this part of Newport from countries such as Albania and Romania. The library provides a constant level of engagement with the community, but it is only the artistic work which we can really report on.

What has gone to plan?

Artist Steve Jones had a New Paths grant to create the character Stuart Farnsworth [see below] and conduct a series of door-to-door surveys called the Nonsensus. In summer and autumn 2017 Stuart asked people questions like what they would do to fix the World and when they were happiest. An attendee at a public Q&A session in February 2018 suggested that Nonsensus revealed what actually matters. The work touches on faith and gives a real flavour of the place. In the next stage 5 artists will explore the stories from Nonsenus. We have also made a 190 page book

Farnsworth keep smiling

The charity has supported a New Paths grant to a Zimbabwean organisation to run an African Day celebration on 29 May 2018. Another New Paths artist - Dilip Sinha - made a year-long photographic survey of the community. The audience at Dilip’s exhibition opening event on December 2nd showed great diversity for an arts event. On the same day the charity worked with Maindee Festival Association to hold a Christmas market. Santa’s grotto was very successful: for a small entry price children received a present and a polaroid photo.

What has not gone to plan? And how did we change?

The Finding Maindee project was the first initiative both for this group of trustees and the team employed to do the work. As such the trustees have chosen to focus the limited resource on the spaces at the library and at the Triangle. We would justify this in terms of the funded activities representing the tip of a much larger and deeper collective effort which a proejct can never take credit for.

In the case of the library, this facility has been volunteer-run for 2 ½ years and has 30 regular helpers. In social capital terms there was no reason not to develop this group of library volunteers and the public services which they offer. As such the Street Media approach, which was directed at young people, has given way because it never managed to find the same base of people and energy as the library. For similar reasons we have put the Map Room activities right to the end of the programme e.g. summer 2018 because the building will only be ready then. 

Trusting in the artistic approach was seen by many as a gamble but has proven to be worthwhile; apart from the community-led events and festivals, we are particularly pleased with the connections that Dilip Sinha made and Steve Jones work on the Nonsensus - as explained above. Trusting this approach has put the project firmly in the camp of qualitative research.


(6) What next?

We are grateful that funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation has matched other funding and specifically allowed the project to employ a project manager and other staff. With the support of our major funder - the Arts Council of Wales - we have been able to extend the timescales of the project and so the work will continue until July 2018 at the earliest or November 2018 at the latest. The project at the Triangle will be the greatest beneficiary of this extra time.

A copy of the finances from the 2017/18 financial year will be sent on once this has been completed. This document will otherwise be available from


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