James Brunt: Coastal Ecologies will now run from Saturday 6 July – Sunday 1 September 2024 at Scarborough Art Gallery

A woolly jumper swap shop success!

December 2022

On a chilly winter day, Jayne, Space to Be Access Engagement Coordinator, reflects on a successful event earlier in the month in A Space To Be.

Writing this blog on a Tuesday in mid-December, it is virtually impossible to promote our venue as a warm space. It’s freezing! The old radiators are hot to the touch, but our ceilings are high and the windows old and single-glazed. Katie, on the front desk, has come prepared, wearing a cosy jumper and sits with a hot water bottle on her knees.

It is quiet in the gallery, today. Our usual group have decided the ice on the paths is a little too risky to navigate, so Katie and I make teas for some new visitors who have found A Space to Be, and we make time for ourselves too, to reflect on some recent training and chat about future plans for the project. I like to imagine the future, but like many people, I worry in these unpredictable times.

In galleries and museums, we are working with the past but like other venues across the country, our conversations are equally about the future, these days. We talk about the future with our visitors- not just about upcoming exhibitions, and events, but the bigger picture- anxieties about paying our bills, affording essentials, staying warm. In the summer, our venue was a refuge from the blistering sun; in winter, we can offer a warm welcome, at least, A Space to Be with activities to occupy our hands and minds, conversation and a hot cup of tea, as well as some thought-provoking exhibitions, of course

The Woolly Jumper Swap Shop (Saturday 12 November 2022) came from conversations with participants of the A Space to Be project and our partners at Crescent Arts, and a realisation that our community groups and regular visitors to Scarborough Art Gallery and Woodend needed an event which could potentially bring everyone together.

Many museums are finding ways to discuss the climate crisis and address climate anxieties, but we wanted to find a way of opening those discussions whilst doing something very practical, in a way that felt safe and supportive. A Space to Be has to feel like a safe space, primarily, and whilst the climate action is urgent, our visitors’ wellbeing is vital, too. We wanted to create an event to encourage our visitors to individually and collectively make some positive choices regarding sustainability and have fun in the process.

From our space in the gallery, you can see the sea. The ocean is our landscape, Scarborough seascapes are celebrated in our permanent art collection. It might seem like a tenuous link to our woolly jumper event, but we wanted to do something accessible that could also open up conversations about how our fashion habits can impact on the planet, and specifically our ocean.

The day of the swap was ironically warm, one of the mildest days of December, and the sun streamed through our beautiful windows. Our swappers came from our regular groups, such as Cross Lanes Hospital and the Personalised Learning College, but we also had visitors who had never been to the gallery before but were interested in the idea of sustainable fashion. On the day, we made sixty swaps. We were left with two big bags of jumpers and these were folded nicely, left in the space for the following week, and were offered to our participants and drop-in visitors. We estimate that over one hundred jumpers were swapped or given away.

Young visitors to the event came loaded with bags and showed extraordinary enthusiasm for the idea of swapping. They stayed in the space after the event, creating banners for a new display and sharing their own ideas.

“We think we should swap other things too…books, stuff you don’t need anymore, anything.” The group have been asked to organise their own event in the new year, and the Space to Be team, aong with Crescent Arts, will help facilitate this happening.

The event has prompted a series of other events which we are tagging #ArtOfMending, a focus on the fact that activities can encourage the mending, restoring, repairing and regifting, but also the notion that through these simple acts we can go some way to supporting personal wellbeing, mending communities and even the planet.

We are now considering how we use the space as a place for activism and this may start with a series of forums, giving opportunities for participants to voice their concerns and plan actions together.

You can visit Space To Be at Scarborough Art Gallery, 10am-3pm, every Tuesday. Entry is free.