By our new resident storyteller Victoria Stewart

 

“Have you heard of Open Project Night?” asked Olivia on my first day. “Have you been to Open Project Night?” Bex happened to ask a few days later. “So you know Open Project Project night…?” started Seb a fortnight later.

I was a month into my new membership at Hub Brixton, and it had quickly become clear that Open Project Night – which has run every Monday evening since March 2016 – was already a staple part of the working week here. It was time to check it out.

On the ground floor…

And so on Monday 15th August I bought a bunch of bananas and a tin of stuffed vine leaves from Brixton Market, added them to the Hub’s food table and took my place on the ground floor of the Hub.

Open Project Night, open to anyone, has three layers. The ground floor is for project discussions, pitching and advice; the middle floor is a free space for anyone to work individually or in groups on ongoing social projects, and the top floor is open to any group to host an informal event based around a specific project.

Within two minutes of my arrival I am discussing the box of Indonesian-style tempeh (similar to tofu) that Seb, a photographer and Brixton Hubber, had cooked for everyone, I’ve met another OPN newbie, and another lady who is returning.

“I’m Noel, I am the facilitator here tonight, and I’d like to start with a quick check in on how everyone is doing,” says a friendly man to the 15 or so people collected around him. “I want people to arrive here excited and leave even more excited. So let’s start off…”

Penny, who has brought apples to share, says she is feeling slow today, but as it’s the first time she’s been to Open Project Night, she’s looking forward to seeing what happens. Hubber Mahalia discusses her Echo skills sharing workshops, while Adrienne mentions her West London urban growing project, Cultivate London. There are some who specialise in fundraising, others who run community gardening projects and someone else who is looking to work in the community sector.

At this point Noel rounds up people’s new and existing ideas before explaining the ground rules: ‘join any group’, ‘listen’, ‘ask for help’, and ‘spread the word’. Alongside Echo, there is a suggestion from Bex to brainstorm ideas for Open Project Night fundraising, and one from Ben, keen to create a database of projects. The group splits off into the various conversations, and I sit down with Ben and Noel.

“So this idea is based around the fact that social enterprises and projects emerge from Open Projects Night, or around Lambeth, and then we never hear about them again,” says Ben. “Where can we find out what they’re up to, what stages of fundraising they’re at? Could we create a database? Maybe people are doing the same thing and there are possibilities for collaboration?”

The discussion continues until 7.45pm at which point everyone breaks for dinner, and I mosey upstairs.

On the top floor…

I meet members of Rastafarian Group UK which is gathering, says organiser Sheeba Levi-Stewart, “because we just held our third annual event in Kennington Park for Jamaican Independence Day which was based around emancipation, an important topic to our ancestors. Tonight is our opportunity to review it, to see what worked and what could be improved”.

On the wall a screen shows footage of a girl laughing in a park, music playing around her. Next to it lists of words – including ‘friends’ and ‘feeling of togetherness’ – have been written out as feedback from their event.

“It was fun. There were artefacts, food, sports and music. It was just socialising!” says another organiser, Yuashati who adds that before hearing of the Hub, the group had always met in other locations in Brixton, such as at The Domino Club.

One floor down…

I find two entrepreneurs deep in discussion about their projects from Hub partners Hatch’s 12-week incubator programme. I also meet Rachel – a Thursday host at Hub Brixton – and her friend Emmanuel who are meeting to discuss their idea, MOMM (Make Our Money Matter). This is the first time they’ve met to discuss the idea and they agree it’s going well.

“It’s a black consumer and business empowerment network. The idea is to help strengthen and build the paid black economy and create sustainability within the black community – to use consumerism for change,” Emmanuel tells me.

I head downstairs to find that newcomers have turned up to get advice from Bex on ideas they have, while the three main groups have finished discussions and most are heading home. Talking to the final few, there is a feeling that tonight has been helpful. Finally, I go back to ask Ben and Noel how theirs went.

“We’ve mapped out the stakeholders and we’ll ask them if they want to be part of it. And then we’ll write it up,” says Ben.

And with that I leave, buzzing with ideas.

Open Project Night is held at Impact Hub Brixton every Monday evening from 6.30-10.30pm. Everyone is welcome.