The creative community club embracing the wider community
The Lab in Northampton is venturing into community workshops and Sarah Becker went along to find out
As hospitality venues battle the storm of increasing costs, The Lab club is leading the way in creating innovative events to encourage people through their door to try new experiences.
Writer Sarah Becker attended its ‘intergenerational skills swap’ workshop to find out more.
I must confess I have a particular fascination for finding out about what other people do and for trying new activities.
So when I was offered the chance to take part in a ‘Skills Swap’ at the music and arts venue, The Lab, in Charles Street, Northampton on a Tuesday afternoon in March, I jumped at it.
The ‘Intergenerational Skills Swap’ is a themed fortnightly series of community learning sessions. Aimed at children and adults, it is part of an initiative by committee members of the Lab, to involve the wider community into a broader programme of arts.
Traditionally a music venue, ‘The Lab Arts collective’ is now hosting new events including Art Jam (a visual arts fest) Jonty’s Jam (a weekly musician’s jam), Hushed (where musicians can have their gigs filmed) and spoken word evenings.
Project organiser Tamsyn Payne said:
“The idea for the ‘Skills Swap’ came from a brilliant open day event which broke new ground for us by introducing yoga, art and meditation workshops to the club along with our traditional bands.
“We wanted to broaden the venue’s appeal and use the building as much as we could.”
So how did the Skills Swap pan out?
I put my name down for the ‘Music and Entertainment’ event where three local creatives were running mini workshops to give an insight into their uncommon skills.
Singer-songwriter That Joe Payne would speak about the golden rules of singing; Jules Osmany from BBC Radio’s Treasure Quest was going to elaborate about her life on the airwaves, and the 12th Bard of Northampton, Chris Matthewman, was to run a poetry workshop.
First up for me was bard and church minister Chris’, poetry workshop.
Participants, consisting of parents and their children and a stream of adults, were split into three groups for the workshops.
In this warm community vibe, I was joined on my table by two children under the age of 12 and by a previous Bard of Northampton, Nathan Jones.
Despite being a writer, I must admit that until that cosy Tuesday afternoon, I have never experienced the urge to write a poem.
The excitement of collaboration changed that and soon we were wracking our brains for rhyming words that Chris had asked us to come up with.
A youngster on my table selected her favourite word as “fox” which was fine, until she insisted that it rhymed with “mouse.” No amount of coaxing from Nathan or myself would budge her from her position until finally artistic licence prevailed and a beautiful poem started to emerge.
We were soon busy beavering away nurturing our poems to fruition. I was so engaged in the task I barely heard the timer when it went off.
Time was up we were moved on to our next workshop.
Jules Osmany from BBC Radio Northampton spoke about the life of a radio presenter before setting us in pairs for an interview exercise.
One challenge of being on air constantly, Jules said, was that she always had to sound exuberant, irrespective of how she felt.
“It’s not easy always being so upbeat,” she laughed, “I have to sound cheery even when I’m not particularly feeling it.”
Another challenge on air she said, was the one-to-one interview, in particular how to keep interviewees talking to avoid any awkward silences.
That was our task in this mini workshop and I was delighted to be paired with Mindy Robinson, who I soon discovered, is the owner of cake company Sophisticake Creations in Northampton.
My interrogations proved fruitful; I found out that Mindy is going to be a speaker at the next Skills Swap event and will run a workshop on decorating cupcakes.
“I love baking vegan cakes,” said Mindy. “In fact I’ve won quite a few awards for my cakes.
“I have been awarded the Vegetarian/Vegan title for my vegan Zucchini and Walnut Cake at the Weetabix Food and Drinks awards, she said proudly. “Last year I also won The Great Taste award for my vegan, sweet potato, pecan and pistachio cake.”
I could have carried on talking to Mindy all evening, however off went the timer and we moved on to our last workshop.
Singer-songwriter ‘That Joe Payne’ was our final host for the afternoon.
I soon discovered there is a lot more to singing than you’d imagine.
The vocal cords need to be developed, said Joe.
“Some muscles that aren’t normally engaged need to be and others that are shouldn’t be.” To demonstrate, he produced a giant red yoga ball.
“When you see an opera singer sing, they hold their arms out to engage their lateral muscles. To feel the difference this makes, take this ball, hold it out in front of you and give it a squeeze. You’ll find there is a big difference in the vocal sound you can make.”
I, along with other members of our group, volunteered to produce two vocal sounds, one with and one without the ball.
I’m not convinced that any of the sounds that erupted from my mouth were by any stretch of the imagination “tuneful.”
Whereas, the notes that flowed effortlessly from Joe’s diaphragm, with or without the ball, seemed to resonate deeply from a different stratosphere.
It was illuminating to get a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of Joe’s vocal ability.
As the Skills Swap drew to a close I was buzzing. There is something very energising about trying out new skills led by people who are passionate about their talent.
Post pandemic, the return of the community atmosphere in a local club is like a warm hug, the chance to connect with like-minded people in a welcoming environment, a real antithesis to solo internet surfing that has such a stranglehold on the individual.
Hospitality venues need our support to thrive – the Lab Arts Collective is rising to the challenge of creating innovative new cultural events.
The mix of children and adults worked well as the children brought their wide eyed enthusiasm to the table.
The next Intergenerational Skills Swap will take place this coming Tuesday (March 21) from 2pm to 4pm and is on the theme of ‘food’.
Information for all other events can be found on The Lab’s website