Grow Your Own Theatre at The Mill, by Sarah Chase

Community, Guest Bloggers
May 1, 2012 3:04 pm

Grow Your Own Theatre logo

Why has it taken me two months to write this little article about The Mill? I think I know… I am a little embarrassed to confess just how much I am in love with The Mill.

If you don’t know it, and it seems lots of people don’t yet, The Mill is a gorgeous community centre near Oxfam on the St James Street end of the High Street. Searching for venues to hold Grow Your Own Theatre drama classes, I stumbled across this intriguing place about to open.

I looked it up on the A to Z, but could only find St James Street Library… ah, but this is the start of the story. Faced with imminent closure, the local residents formed an action group and campaigned tirelessly and selflessly to let their feelings be known. Despite not managing to save the library, the group were successful in keeping the building for community use. In April 2011, the group got the keys to the building, and with funding from NESTA to pay the lease to the council, so began the transformation to The Mill as it is today.

From the moment I walked into The Mill, I was smitten. Alison (Chair of the Trustees) had managed to persuade some graduate architects to come and live in the building (I know!). They had created wonders – everywhere you look, you can see their innovative efforts. From pipe covers, to benches out of computer tables, children’s rocking horse bookcases and shelves for the new honesty library – the Mill looks wonderful. F-a-c-e studios now have a stall at St James Street Market where you can order your very own Mill bench. So many local groups got involved, Cheeky Handmades held classes in making patchwork curtains out of old jeans, and volunteers made cushions.

I think it may be one of the best looking community centres out there. But it’s not all about looks, is it?

You see, The Mill is now a thriving community centre. I went in the other day to have a meeting with a potential drama assistant (result: I can have a cup of tea and a chat while the kids play in the lovely play area) and while I was there the baby managed to charm/annoy an ESOL group who were meeting in the garden room and a sewing group making neighbourly patches with Catherine of Significant Seams in the meeting room. I also met a new volunteer who was working reception, talked to Natasha about E17 Art Trail moving into the offices upstairs and smiled at various people who had come in to read papers. Phew! And that was just a normal Wednesday…

I love that The Mill is a real community centre. Everybody, from 3 year olds enjoying the immensely popular Creative Dance sessions on a Sunday morning (so good they’ve had to do it twice) to the Recycled Teenagers (genius). There is a strong multi-cultural feel too, with volunteers from various backgrounds, Asian sewing and Spanish for beginners.

And I really should mention that Grow Your Own Theatre will be holding our own youth theatre at The Mill, continuing our Saturday Seedlings drama, and making classes for 3-7 years too. We were lucky enough to secure one of the grants provided for by NESTA and The Mill, designed to promote activity at The Mill and help people get a variety of classes up and running. This was incredibly useful and gratefully received – not just the money – but the opportunity to experiment and try things out.

So, I think ultimately it is the heart and the vibe of the Mill that I adore.  People making it happen.

Sadly, the funding ran out in April this year, The Mill had to say goodbye to much-loved Community Organiser John, and so The Mill needs YOUR help if it is to continue. It really is a centre for us – the whole Walthamstow community. Go and visit, do a class or have a cup of tea and a biscuit and make a donation. Let your children play in the play area, volunteer, borrow a book from the honesty library but go!

You can donate at via The Mill’s website or, if you have 5 minutes, please vote for Grow Your Own Theatre to receive some funding from Enterprise Nation.

Thanks for the support.

Sarah Chase is Artistic Director at Grow Your Own Theatre, and tweets at @eskacy.

Sarah Chase does not work for The Mill. All information correct at time of writing.

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