Royston people power
PUBLISHED: 12:47 19 May 2015 | UPDATED: 12:56 19 May 2015
With more than 80 clubs and societies, Royston celebrates a social spirit that has created a community cinema, a thriving grow-your-own scene and a skills-based cash-free economy. Julie Lucas meets project leaders harnessing people power to make a difference
For a small market town, Royston has community spirit overflowing. Its list of more than 80 clubs and societies ranges from Bollywood dancing to a power kite club. And then there is the team of volunteer embroiderers who for more than 20 years have painstakingly worked on a Bayeux-inspired Royston tapestry, weaving scenes from the town’s history into a 27-metre artwork due to be finished in a couple of years. Meanwhile, the active business community is working with local authorities to improve the High Street with more events and easier parking for shoppers. There are also plans for pop-up shops in the pipeline. The residents certainly have a can-do attitude.
Time in the bank
Royston Time Bank was set up 10 years ago to encourage people in the town to share and exchange skills in money-free transactions.
Savita Mason, administrator for the Royston branch, explains, ‘We encourage people in the community to learn from each other and help each other. It aims to break the isolation some people feel, helping them to meet new people.’
Membership is free and members provide a range of services. This might be gardening, French lessons or dog walking. ‘It can be any skill at all really,’ says Mason. ‘They could spend an hour setting up an email account – each service earns a credit and these can then be used against other skills.
‘We currently have 56 members in Royston, with members offering such diverse things as tai chi and reflexology. We’ve had someone who did ghost walks and a lady who shares her knowledge of architecture. If someone has moved into the area, it is a way of integrating with the community. We are not trying to replace paid services – these are odd jobs you would do for a neighbour or a friend.’
Grow your own
Michael Griggs has been secretary of Royston Association of Garden Allotments for 20 years, overseeing 100 plots on its three-and-a-half acre site, the only allotment site in the town. Demand for allotments has grown and Michael believes it is more popular now than ever. ‘Everyone is talking green,’ he says. ‘Gardens today tend to be very small and people want to grow their own. People can grow what they want here, often it’s vegetables but lots of people grow flowers.
He adds that thinks have moved on from the image of the allotmenteer as an ‘old boy in a cloth cap’. ‘Now we get families and young children. Some of them stay down here all day and bring a packed lunch. Twenty years ago we decided the allotments weren’t going anywhere so we formed a proper committee and over the years it has evolved. We now have a clubhouse with an allotment shop, as well as running competitions, we event have a compost toilet.’
Michael says the attraction of the space is being out in the open air and being close to nature, but also the people: ‘It’s a lovely community down here, everyone helps each other. You meet people from different walks of life and of course you can use their skills whatever they may be.’
The idea of a community cinema came from Royston Town Manager Geraint Burnell. ‘The stimulus for it was a visit to Saffron Screen in Saffron Walden,’ he explains. ‘I got dragged to what I thought would be a room with a rickety old projector and was surprised to find it was state-of-the-art. I thought we could do the same thing in Royston. People were lamenting the loss of the cinema and so I said let’s put one back in.’
Local authorities led by Royston Town Council refurbished the town hall while Royston First Business Improvement District funded the equipment. ‘It’s been a big community project,’ and a demanding one too, says Geraint recalling the challenges of introducing 21st century technology into a Victorian building.
The 134-seater Royston Picture Palace opened in June 2012 on the 100th anniversary of the opening of the original cinema in the town. It is a modern digital cinema with a 17 speaker sound system, 7.2 metre screen and retractable seating so the hall can be used mid-week for other events The cinema is completely manned by volunteers, with a pool of between 40 and 60 people and a core of around 20 people involved.
‘We are something of a victim or our own success,’ says Geraint. ‘We sold 9,500 seats in the first year and this January we did our first 1,500 seat month which sets us up for considerably more attendees this year. As more and more people know about it we have discovered running a part-time cinema is pretty much is the same as running a full-time cinema but without the resources. It’s been a steep learning curve but lots of people are coming and we get really good films. Our focus is to give the people what they want – we profile our audiences so time and thought is put into what we show. We don’t have an art-house agenda but are going to be a bit more creative this summer and are hoping to stream some live events. It’s been a huge success.’
Royston Allotment Open Day takes place on Sunday, August 9. Plants will be on sale and there will be a scarecrow competition for allotment holders.
For more information on the Time Bank scheme go to mytimebank.org.uk
Royston Picture Palace opens every Friday and Saturday night, Saturday matinee and some Sunday 5pm showings. Prices are £7.50 adults, £5.50 concessions.
See roystonpicturepalace.org.uk for film details.