Come Together in... Exeter, Devon

PUBLISHED: 15:30 26 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:16 20 February 2013

Come Together in... Exeter, Devon

Come Together in... Exeter, Devon

At the heart of a thriving society beats a sense of close community. Belinda Dillon speaks to five people who are working to make Exeter an even better Devon city in which to live and work

At the heart of a thriving society beats a sense of close community. Belinda Dillon speaks to five people who are working to make Exeter an even better city in which to live and work

As Devons capital, Exeter naturally has much about which to blow its trumpet: vast areas of parkland, wetlands and nature reserves make it a city with excellent green credentials, as well as one that invites us all to jump on our bikes and explore; the new Princesshay centre offers shopping opportunities galore, as well as restaurants and cafs with al fresco seating areas; our cathedral is one of the UKs finest Gothic masterpieces. Of a manageable size, Exeter is a cosy city, friendly and welcoming; but all cities run best when their citizens really get involved, and a number of Exeters citizens are striving to make their communities as inclusive and cohesive as possible. And it goes to show that theres much more to Exeter than at first meets the eye

Deborah Bucella, Particular Theatre Company

Our focus is on local theatre, actors and new writing from the South West, says Deborah Bucella, one of the three founders along with David Lockwood and Fin Irwin of Particular Theatre Company. Its important to create spaces for actors and writers outside London.

Operating out of The Bike Shed Theatre in the West Quarter, Particular Theatre Company mines the rich seam of creativity in the region and gives it somewhere to shine. Exeter the South West in general is full of creative, talented people, but there seems to be very little space for that to flourish, says Deborah. We set up the Particular Theatre to meet that need.

Given the space gratis for six months by the owner of The Bike Shed cycle shop upstairs, Deborah, David and Fin set about making it their own. Theres a cosy retro bar and seating, and the performance space is refreshingly versatile. As well as productions of full-length plays, Particular offers a 15-minute slot every night after the main play, which provides a platform for new writing and which changes every two nights. Its a very organic process, explains Deborah. Actors perform with script in hand. Its ideal for experimenting with new voices and new writing.

As well as theatre, on a Sunday The Bike Shed hosts other events. It is a creative space that we want everyone to share, says Deborah. Music includes DJs Sponge Mix, cabaret evenings, Secret Cinema, as well as The Matchbox by the fabulous Birds, Orphans and Fools. The bar definitely suits itself to eclectic creativity it reminds me of the Zodiac Club from the 1958 James Stewart/Kim Novak film Bell, Book and Candle!

Exeter is an ideal place for this kind of enterprise, says Deborah. Where else could three twentysomethings start up and run their own theatre? The city provides a creative, supportive environment because there are so many creative people looking for an outlet.

Particular Theatre Company at The Bike Shed Theatre, St Olaves Close, Mary Arches Street, Exeter EX4 3AT

07880 613869

Sarah Brunner, Otto Retro

I guess were a junk shop where other stuff happens, says Sarah, owner of the West Quarters coolest shop, Otto Retro. Originally from San Francisco, Sarah arrived in Exeter via London and Sandford because she wanted to start something for myself. Her description of Otto Retro as a colourful junk emporium is accurate, but doesnt convey the impeccably authentic vintage aesthetic of the place. Within its constantly changing interior, you can find a 1930s armchair, 1960s crockery, and stuffed animals from goodness knows when. Need a gift in double-quick time? I defy you not to find something in Otto Retro.

But Otto Retro is so much more. Sarah has created a space where creative people can showcase their work, or just meet like-minded folk. It does feel like a drop-in centre sometimes, says Sarah. Were very open about peoples work. They can bring work in to display, or host an event, or to sell. Im happy to embrace the absurd and the strange

Local creatives making the most of Otto Retro include ExCite Poetry, who host a monthly open-mic night; artists Izzy Bright-Roberts and Jeremy Haughty; and the University of Exeter Knitting Society, who come in the evening, drape themselves over the furniture and drink tea from vintage china, says Sarah. In April and May, the shop was host to three installations based on sweet jars that formed part of the Stowage Project, including one that came to life at night and communicated via light-based Morse code with a jar in the window of the Exeter Peace Shop across the street.

People come here because there arent that many venues in Exeter that are non-standard, non-corporate. Were an anything goes kind of place.

For relaxation, Sarah takes herself to The Hourglass, a pub on Melbourne Street, near the Quay, which is similarly renowned for its creative endeavours and the quality of the conversation at the bar. Its a haven of civility, says Sarah.

Otto Retro, 6 New Bridge Street, Exeter EX4 3JW

07812 147016

See mini-films about whats in store at

Alistair Macintosh, Exeter Community Initiatives

As Director of the charity Exeter Community Initiatives (ECI), Alistair Macintosh understands the importance of community in fostering a socially inclusive and cohesive society. Making connections is vital for people, he says. Theres no substitute for human interaction, one-to-one contact and support.

As an umbrella organisation that identifies need, and establishes and manages community development projects, ECI finds itself in an almost parental role, in that projects and groups that it supports and nurtures frequently go on to independence. One example is St Petrocks, which works with the citys homeless and aims to tackle social exclusion by improving independence and employability.

A number of ECIs current projects focus on helping young families. Our outreach workers visit different areas of the city and help both individual families, and those setting up support groups, assisting them to secure funding and make connections.

High on the agenda is giving children a great start in life. A new project just launched is Harvest, which supports local people in growing their own food, says Alistair. This project aims to support people in learning about the importance of good nutrition. Were focusing on areas where space to grow is an issue, and well encourage communal growing events and a garden share scheme. Local people will train to become Growing Champions, and they will then support others in learning how to grow using the space thats available. People can come together to celebrate, such as at the Spring Fair in Beacon Heaths Mincinglake Valley Park, which has recently been planted as a community orchard.

The Harvest project hopes to link closely with parent and children groups such as the Beacon Heath Community Project as health and wellbeing is crucial at a young age. Why should we assume that parents always intuitively know what is best for a child? asks Alistair. We want to enable people to help themselves, giving them aspirations and the support to achieve their potential.

Exeter Community Initiatives,

14 York Road, Exeter EX4 6BA

01392 205800

Colin Rea, Big Noise Chorus

I set up Big Noise Chorus to get people together to use their voices to make a positive difference to the world around them, says choir leader Colin Rea. Singing is a way of making you feel part of a community, and we need that in our culture.

Colin has been a singing teacher for about 15 years, and has seen the joy it brings to people. Having studied the role of singing and the voice in African cultures, he was inspired to form a choir.

Many people are reluctant to sing because theyve had bad experiences, such as being ridiculed by parents or teachers. In establishing the choir, Colin wanted to reverse that process. Singing can be taught and it can be learnt, he insists. People are very vulnerable when they sing; the voice and confidence are so intertwined.

Big Noise Chorus is a mixture of skilled singers and those whove never sung before. Theres no audition process, says Colin. Just come along to a session; sing if you want to, or not. We sing a mixture of songs, from pop and rock to soul and musical favourites, but theyre all uplifting and inspiring, the sorts of songs that when people sing them, they cant help but go for it.

A recent concert in aid of Singing for the Brain, an offshoot of the Alzheimers Society at the Mint Methodist Church on Fore Street saw the audience reward the choir with a standing ovation. It was absolutely fantastic, says Colin. All concerts are in aid of a charity, chosen by the singers.

To unwind, Colin enjoys the local countryside. I love to cycle out past the Quay, stop off at the Double Locks, cycle on to the Turf Locks, stop there for a while, then cycle back, possibly stopping at the Double Locks

Big Noise Chorus will be spreading the joy at the Exeter Respect Festival in Belmont Park on 6 June.

Big Noise Chorus

07788 520471

Robert Wynne, Magic Carpet

One of the things I believe in is that art and creativity shouldnt just be in special places, such as galleries, but should be in our communities, accessible to all.

As Chief Executive of the charity Magic Carpet, Robert co-ordinates projects that encourage people with learning disabilities and mental health issues in the city to explore their creativity. There are a number of groups that meet at various locations around Exeter, including the Tuesday Club art group and the Magic Movement group, both of which meet at the Phoenix Arts Centre. Drama sessions are not only fun, but also develop communication skills, as well as helping to resolve issues by working through them in a safe and supportive environment. Magic Carpet is also developing a unique relationship with Westerly Exeter (BMW dealership), which in September will be hosting an exhibition of artwork from across all Magic Carpets art groups.

New project, Moving On, aims to help people develop the confidence to take the step into education or training.

Im very excited about this project, says Robert. We will identify people who have the aspirations and possibilities to move on, and well support them in obtaining, for instance, art-based qualifications, or help them to create a portfolio to get into art college. People tend to be set in their ways, so its great to shake them up and offer new and different challenges.

Magic Carpet employs experienced artists and project workers to run its groups, but also relies heavily on a body of volunteers. One of the things I really like about Exeter is that wherever I go, I always run into someone who has volunteered with us, says Robert. Its a warm, friendly place with lots of music and lots of creativity.

Magic Carpet, The Scrapstore, Gordon Road, Exeter EX1 2DH

01392 422938

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