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On Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 June, against all odds (COVID, train strikes, festival season), a group of us met to discuss the questions ‘How might we create an arts-led learning community, for children and adults, in person and online?’

We were a small group of around 10-15 on each day. Though there weren’t many of us, the passion and commitment of each person there filled the huge space we had at Shoreditch Town Hall.

The people that came, did so in response to an invitation written by Matilda and her two children: Riddley and Tenar.

Matilda’s Invitation:

I am feeling excited. And terrified. And determined.

Just over a week ago I wrote a post for our Improbable Gathering journal about my children’s struggles with school. I wrote of how the issue that my son and daughter have with the traditional structures of education feels intimately connected to our wish to create an Improbable home, to hold and pass on the company’s values and practices, which are themselves at odds with so many of our culture’s default structures.

The response I received to that post has been overwhelming - so many moving stories of people struggling with the current educational system, or of others striking out and trying to forge a different path, or from people keen to connect and offer their skills, experiences and resources. When I wrote the post, I thought I was drawing a parallel between my children’s situation and our Improbable quest, which is why I added this at the end, only as a ‘P.S.’:

“P.s.…and if you want to help me, and my children, make an arts-led school, where the curriculum is delivered through the staging of plays, I’d love to hear from you too.”

I didn’t think it was the main agenda, or I didn’t feel brave enough to make it so. I added it in brackets, as it were, at the end- an afterthought, after the official agenda about which I was meant to be writing - the grown up one, The Gathering. But the responses I have received have turned this around and made me realise that the idea of such a learning community, at our newly found location of Bore Place, in Kent, mightn’t be a ‘P.S.’ at the end at all - it could be at the start, at the heart of the thing. And not only that- I had thought the dream of founding an arts-led school was pie in the sky, a wild fantasy, but, reading through the many inspirational clues and stories people have sent, I now feel it isn’t a crazy idea, up in air, but an urgent need, down on the ground - an opportunity, right here, right now, and the crazy thing would be to ignore this, which is why I am excited, and why I am terrified, and why I am writing this invitation to you now.

The arts are currently under attack in the UK on every level, squeezed out of the school curriculum, under threat from lack of funds in universities and other institutions. We have envisaged our Improbable home being like an ark - an ark for the arts - a vessel that can hold all that we want to preserve in these turbulent times. But an ark with a difference - an ark that holds difference, an open invitation to anyone who wishes to come on board. Let’s put the rainbow, the pie in the sky, at the outset of the story, not the end, not a P.S. but a promise and commitment up front.

So, I am starting with what I know, thanks to Improbable, to be the next step - an arc on the earth, a circle of people, into which you are invited: an open space. Probably not how Noah built his ark (I think God gave him plans) but how we are going to build ours - its physical structure but also the learning community at its centre. Come if you want to help us start building - literally or figuratively. Come if you have an experience or perspective that you want to offer. Come if you want to make something similar happen near you. Come if you work in education. Come if you have been in education. Come if you are an artist. Come if you are a child, and you hate school as much as my son does, or if you love it and you want to share why.

Come to our ark of difference.

Come to our Gathering.

Riddley’s Invitation:

I am very interested in a lot of the arts - drawing, acting and storytelling - but the way I am taught is not the style that suits me (when I was told to draw a cuttlefish, I wanted to draw a Jedi mole!). I also feel like the way they teach us things is a bit dull. I certainly think there are more creative ways of learning things than saying "Sam had two apples and he bought two more - how many did he have?” - that sort of thing I find a bit boring. Ever since my mum put forth the idea of doing something new, I have been very excited. I hope this Open Space will get us to the next step to find a way of teaching me stuff like maths in ways other than people buying apples.

Tenar’s Invitation:

I am an outdoors girl. I want an archery class. A horse-riding class. And an art class. I want to make sculptures. I will want to be a pop star. And I would also like to learn rowing. And I would like to learn reading and writing too, but in a more exciting way than they normally teach it. Come and help me make a school that teaches these things. Thank you for that. (My brother is not so much like me, as you might expect but he is sometimes very nice.) That’s all I want to say. I hope you can help us with this thing which is very important to me.  

Below you’ll find a collection of the reports written by the participants of this Open Space weekend. None have been edited and are presented as provided by those that wrote them.

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