What happens when a group of local residents come together to make a stand for the change that they want to see? Stonehouse Action aims to provide the space to find out. Made up of local volunteers who want to improve the local area, they want to create opportunities for people to gain skills and get to know each other in a way that helps to improve Union Street in Plymouth for everyone. They rallied together to transform a derelict shop, also known as Union Corner, into a thriving community hub of activity, raising an impressive £10,704 from 82 supporters to make their idea happen.
We caught up with Wendy, Vice Chair of the Stonehouse Action Community Group, to find out about their Crowdfunder journey and what they’ve been up to since their project closed in 2015.
What is Union Corner?
This building was a derelict property with black plastic sheeting on the outside. It was all dark and blacked out with wood and had been empty for 25 years. We took it on with the intention of transforming it into a community hub and opened the doors in 2016. We have offered the space to meetings and events each step of the way which has been brilliant, because people have seen the journey that we are on.
The street itself has transformed too. Even just before we opened, we would see drug deals happening on the street. There were also two sex businesses that have closed down. It’s not great for the kids at the school across the road to be walking through that and they both closed down within 6 months of us opening. It’s not definitely because of us being here, but it might be, so we claim that one.
We have since setup Nudge (called so because we want to Nudge the street); a Community Benefit Society that owns, creates and runs activities in disused, underused or unusual urban spaces to lead to lasting positive change and community led regeneration. We would never have done this without Union Corner. That’s why we have the names of all of our supporters from crowdfunding on the wall. That’s our crowd who we say thank you to – without them, none of this would be possible.
What impact has Union Corner had?
We created this space with the crowdfunding money and people come that love either our values or what we’re doing and they put on activities. Whilst we might lead some workshops with our partners, it’s mostly other organisations and groups doing stuff, which in turn creates a better offer for the community.
Each week, we can have as many as 300 people attending different activities and so far, since we opened in October 2016, we’ve had over 260 activities happen. This can be anything from Corner Soup to eclectic music evenings, poetry slams, a community comedy sketch evening, yoga, and lots of other lovely creative things. We’ve made over roughly 12,000 cups of tea or coffee – maybe even more – since opening!
It’s all about starting from the bottom up and saying that things can change and that we, as a community, can do something.
Can you tell us about Corner Soup?
One of the most popular events that we run is Corner Soup. It began at the end of October 2017 and all of the food is donated from either the Real Junk Food Project or from the DCFA down the road. Since beginning Corner Soup, we have since held 60 sessions, serving over 2,000 bowls of soup.
The idea that sparked this off was to feed homeless people and refugees, but we maintain that there are no rules around being here. Therefore, we decided to feed everyone – it’s all inclusive. It means that people can meet other people, and it’s becoming a gentle network. People came in as strangers, but are starting to be able to ask of things from one another, such as advice or where they can go for certain things. It’s lovely when you hear the conversations going on between people.
We also have businessmen and local business owners coming in for soup. We always organise our own meetings over soup and ask other people to meet us here. It’s all about social integration. I think, when we first opened, some people were embarrassed to come in but we kept inviting them and now they are regular visitors. People will say things like, ‘I don’t know what else I would have done today’, or that they would have been at home not talking to anyone.
How did you find running your Crowdfunder project?
An absolute emotional rollercoaster! Hannah and I ran the crowdfunding project and we organised the whole thing over four sessions at the pub. However, after two weeks, we were only at about £2,000 of our £10,000 target and felt like we were already sharing like crazy. I knew that we couldn’t fail, so I just got out on the streets and went to see all of the local businesses and knocked on their doors. I said that if they gave us £50, then we would promote their business on our website and social media channels as we have quite a big reach.
Some of the businesses that I thought would give didn’t give us anything. However, one business at the end of the road quizzed me for 15 minutes and I thought, ‘This is hard work for £50!’, but I didn’t mind. Within half an hour, he had pledged £1,000 on the Union Corner project. It’s stories such as this that make it all worth it. We tell everyone that crowdfunding has huge highs and lows. Sure, the no’s do make a dent in your pride, but there’s so much more to gain.
We believe that crowdfunding is more precious than receiving a grant, as they traditionally come from organisations that you don’t have a relationship with. Whereas I know, looking at our wall of supporters, that Ann and Mary and Alex… a lot of those people, I will bump into them on the street. It doesn’t matter how much they gave us, it’s the fact that they gave us their money. That lovely connection to those people makes you want to make that money go even further. You’re much more careful with it, because it really means something. It really makes you see your community in a different way.
If we didn’t receive the £5,000 in extra funding from Plymouth City Council then we wouldn’t have made it either. That was a game changer.
What are your top tips for anyone thinking about crowdfunding?
Consider All Or Nothing. I’m glad we went on All Or Nothing (you only keep the money if you reach target), otherwise we wouldn’t have gone for it so hard.
Keep reaching out. There must be some psychology behind backing a successful project, because some of my friends didn’t pledge until the very last few days.
Get out and about. We found that it wasn’t social media that got us there. Sure, social media is important, but I always say to other groups that it isn’t purely this. It’s all about face to face. They say that you have to hit someone three times before it sinks in – perhaps with email, conversation, social media. Also, don’t forget that you are the best person to go and talk about it because you really believe in your project.
Keep talking to people. Don’t be embarrassed about talking about money with people – just go and ask. People can only say no, and the first few no’s are horrid, but you get used to it and the amount of yes’s you get cancels that out.
• Want to know more about Union Corner? Check out their Crowdfunder project here.