Amanda Matthews and Toby White are behind Project40Seven, a new community hub for Leiston in Suffolk. Here, Amanda explains the grand plan, complete with a social supermarket and a repair shop – and how people can get involved
Project40Seven is the brainchild of Toby White – founder of Creative Leiston. You can usually find him volunteering somewhere about town, having a hand in many community-based groups or in more recent times, putting on events and craft camps through Creative Leiston CIC. These offer people of all ages the chance to get creative and keep joy alive – all events put on by Creative Leiston have always been, and will continue to be, free events to ensure they remain fully inclusive for all!
Together, Toby and I have often spoken about the need to have a local, central point where the wide-ranging talents of so many crafters and artists in the area could showcase their work, and have an opportunity to offer them to the public on a more semi-permanent basis.
We talked about how there are so many different community groups whom, given the chance to work closer, with better communication between them, could offer the town and surrounding areas even more opportunities.
Serendipity came to play and, whilst working in one of his volunteer roles, Toby was invited to look around a building by its owners, and Project 40Seven began to take up residence in his mind.
In discussions between us, this initial idea has snowballed into a huge community hub filled with opportunities for the town and surrounding areas – the crafters, the entrepreneurs, various established groups, as well as helping with social wellbeing, and a commitment to improving the environmental impact too!
The building, 47 High Street, lends itself beautifully to being a multi-functional space. A gorgeous wooden beamed, front of house, full of character is just right to house Crafted – a dedicated shop front for all local makers, crafters and artisans to have a permanent place on the High Street to showcase their work to customers. Staffed by the crafter’s themselves, they’ll have the chance to directly interact with shoppers on the high street, offering a social side to the shop as well – something many of us need more of post Covid!
Moving further into the building it opens and becomes an airier space. Here we envision a thriving miniature metropolis, incorporating two pop up micro retail taster pods (Mr T’s for short), a kitchen café – with a twist – along with my very own established local shop, Refill. I will be moving up the road to join with Project40Seven to further strengthen both our visions for the future!
The idea behind the micro retail taster pods is to allow the budding entrepreneurs of the area a chance to test the waters a little and trial their business idea with the community – to see if it’s something that could be successful, and if they feel works for them in a High Street retail setting before taking that giant leap of faith into a full high street presence of their own. This is a chance I would have been so excited to have had before jumping head first into Refill!
Crafted and Mr T’s pods will allow all those in the community with a micro business of their own the chance to see it flourish in the town. Giving them confidence to take it to bigger and better things.
Growing up here, opportunities to feel inspired and confident in the future were limited. Many felt that to make a better life you had to get out of Leiston. We’d like to reverse that feeling and foster a positive vibe for the area instead – a springboard for your dream to take flight! Suffolk, and our wonderful coastal area, is awash with incredibly talented and creative people! We want to give them a permanent position in town to flourish. Crafted and our micro retail taster pods are here to support these dreams in a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, with people who can help and offer advice for succeeding.
Next up in our miniature metropolis is a café – C’s Treats. Our little kitchen is going to be serving up low cost, seasonal delicacies and tasty treats, utilising produce from our local area, and helping to reduce food waste by using up items that are getting too close to date to be sold in Refill or used in our Social Supermarket, The Pantry!
Anything batch made and not sold at C’s Treats will be frozen and taken back to The Pantry as ready to go meals and to the local food bank with whom we already work closely!
Part of the vision for C’s Treats is to collaborate with other local fooderies and performers in Church Square, creating fun little events in the centre of town to bring community spirit alive with fun and food, and most importantly making it accessible for all!
At Project40Seven, making the community more positive and opportunities accessible to all is at the centre of what we want to achieve. In the current climate that also means being able to offer practical support and help with the cost of living, as well as making change achievable for the community to live more sustainably and reduce food waste – which is a major contributing factor to climate change!
The Pantry, Leiston’s very own social supermarket, will offer customers the chance to grab a bag full of products at a far reduced rate – items that may have otherwise ended up as landfill. Making personal budgets stretch further. Giving customers the chance to put more of their cash towards other areas of their lives, reducing stress and anxiety over the choice between heating or eating, and giving back the sense of personal pride that these worries strip us of.
Working alongside The Pantry, Refill will be available, as always, to get just the right amount of cupboard staples, or small amounts of odd herbs and spices to make the items you’ve picked up in The Pantry into a wholesome meal – either in smaller individual portions, or enough to make it a full family meal. Either way, reducing wastage and saving money by only getting, and paying for the amounts you need! You can also do the same with our plant based, environmentally friendly, all biodegradable, cleaning and personal products too – if you need to get the kids uniforms washed for school but can’t stretch to a full bottle of laundry liquid, or desperate for shampoo but paydays not till next week you only need to get enough to see you through. Getting just the amount you need all helps to save you money, whilst the products themselves give you the peace of mind that what you’re using is kind to the planet as well your family and home!
Furthering our aims of sustainability and accessibility for all, at Project40Seven we plan on offering a Library of Things. For a small annual membership fee, you will then have full access to our inventory of ‘things’. From DIY tools to sewing machines, cake tins to cleaning equipment, if you need an item for a short time, rather than having to waste time and money on driving around sourcing and buying it, then having to store it or more time spent trying to sell it on, you can instead borrow it from the Library for a set period (this can be extended if needed so long as the item hasn’t been reserved by another member).
We also plan on a monthly Repair Shop, where you can bring your tools, items and even clothing that need minor repairs to give them a new lease of life. Saving them from ending up as landfill, saving you money and sharing skills with others – offering further social interactions within our community.
As part of making the community stronger, we are hoping to offer a communities office space, with computing, printing/scanning capabilities etc, along with a private meeting room to facilitate the separate groups of the area working closer together, and the ability to coordinate better events for the town and area. This will allow the community groups who currently have to be based in the corner of a living room or such – and that don’t have the funding or space for things like printers and laminators – somewhere they can access these facilities without further cost.
We hope offering Project40Seven to Leiston and the surrounding rural areas will bring more positivity, an outlet for creativity and imagination, practical support to those who need it and overall boosting pride and connection in our community and its residents at a time when we all need a little more joy in life!
If this project is something that resonates with you, and makes you excited for the area, we’d love to hear from you! If you have skills that could help us to get set up – there’s a lot of renovations and work that needs to be done first, and plenty of ‘behind the scenes’ that needs completing too. Or if you feel you’re in a position to donate towards getting Project40Seven up and running head over to the Crowdfunder page for more details on how you can get involved!
Featured images supplied by Amanda Matthews and Toby White